Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
There is a need for railway station's at Caerleon and Magor and consideration should be given to reopening the line to Usk from Little Mill, There have been improvements at Severn Tunnel Junction, there is room for improvements in facilities and access at Caldicot, Chepstow and Abergavenny Stations, not to mention more frequent stopping services.
We also need get freight off the roads and onto the rails which would along with rail electrification cut both pollution and road congestion. If Government wants to change the way we use public transport when we need a public transport system that’s fit for purpose and fit for us to use.
Monday, 29 March 2010
The figures published yesterday showed a 5% real terms cut in the Welsh budget, hundreds of millions of pounds, not from some fantasy point in the future but in the 2010-11 financial year which starts in two weeks time. We will have £800m less to spend on Welsh public services in the next year than we should, and between now and 2014 we are likely to be much more than the £3bn worse off that we first thought a year ago.
This is neither fair funding nor a fair deal for Wales. Plaid Cymru were the only party to see this. We were the only ones who cared about our Welsh public services, about our council jobs, health and education, and the only ones facing up to the reality of the situation.
But we in Wales have no have say in these cuts. These are cuts imposed upon us by Labour and Tory masters in London, at Westminster. What’s worse is that Wales has been under-funded for many years and will continue to lose out in the future, as shown by the independent Holtham Commission, which estimates that Wales is losing at least £300m per year under the current system.
Under Labour, public spending in England and Scotland grew faster than in Wales. We in Wales have been taken for granted, and it is still only Plaid Cymru who are fighting for fairer funding, based around the needs of the people of Wales, the outcome recommended by the Holtham Commission.
Despite the successes of the One Wales Government such as ReAct and ProAct, hard working families and businesses all across Wales will still be feeling the pinch when new fuel duty rises kick in next week on what will inevitably go down as ‘April Fuels Day’.
By next January Labour will have increased fuel duty by a massive 17% since December 2008. This means that fuel duty will make up 59p in every litre when people go to the pump. It is a regressive tax that will hit families, businesses and public services budgets hard, and especially those in more rural areas who have less choice in how they travel or how far they have to go for the services they use.
When the time comes we will be fighting these tax rises and repeating our call for a fuel duty regulator which would cap prices at the pump. Labour introduced an even stealthier tax when they froze the income tax threshold. This will increase the amount of tax being paid by hard-working people and impact strongly upon low-paid families here in Wales. In contrast, Plaid would have increased this threshold by £1,000, taking thousands of people in Wales out of paying income tax altogether and putting more money in people’s pockets.
That’s why, in Plaid Cymru, we’re different. We put people first
We would also have increased the basic state pension for over-80s to the level of pension state guarantee to fight pensioner and fuel poverty, whilst increasing taxes on those who are very well off through bringing down the threshold for paying the 50% tax rate and levelling capital gains tax with income tax for example.
This can be afforded – by taking away tax breaks from the already well-off. They don’t need it… our pensioners and those on low incomes, do.
When times are tough it is a question of priorities – and only Plaid Cymru would put the people of Wales first, while Labour and the Tories are more worried by fat cat pin-striped City bankers who are back to their old tricks now after we risked billions of pounds of our money to bail them out.
Our economic future in Wales depends on there being a hung parliament, with neither Labour nor the Tories in overall control. It’s only when your votes matter that they start to pay attention to ordinary people. Plaid Cymru doesn’t owe anything to the City of London, only to the people of Wales – that’s why we’re different. Our policies reflect that and we go to Westminster to get the best deal for Wales, not to listen to anybody else."
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP was absolutely right to question the New Labour Government about the levels of assistance given to former service personnel facing drug problems following their eviction from the forces. Mr Llwyd asked the question of the Veterans Minister Kevan Jones about the services that are available to former service personnel thrown out of the forces for use of illegal substances. The answer received from the government was that no support mechanism is in place - which just about sums up the attitude of the current New Labour Government towards our veterans and serving soldiers.
Mr Llwyd who launched Plaid’s ‘Support for Veterans’ policy discussion document which called for a separate strategic review of expenditure spent on personnel leaving the forces to be conducted. The paper also outlines current areas of deficiency such as the lack of welfare support available and rising numbers of veterans ending up in the Criminal Justice system or with drug and alcohol problems.
Following on from the spiralling cost of military procurement and the government’s inability to keep within its budget, especially over the war in Afghanistan, Mr Llwyd is campaigning for priority to be given to veteran welfare.
Plaid’s Elfyn Llwyd MP said:
“This situation is absolutely shocking. Former service personnel often find themselves in the situation where they turn to alcohol and drug abuse as a direct result of their time in the forces.
“I do not dispute the fact that they should have to leave the forces but what is lacking here is a duty of care towards them. Very often these problems come around because of the unique and intense combat situations soldiers find themselves in. The situation is only set to get worse in coming years given the sheer volume of personnel involved in wars.
“Military hospitals are already stretched with the numbers of wounded coming back from Afghanistan for example. Where is the funding that will deal with after care for the large numbers of veterans and their very wide ranging mix of needs? Veterans need access to a wide range of treatment services including mental health.
“I’ve said before that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to identifying, or treating, PTSD and other mental health problems associated with the after-effects of time spent in a combat zone.
“Soldiers thrown out of the forces for drug abuse are often only at the start of this vicious cycle which can lead to a life of addiction, crime or homelessness. Their situation is unique because of the situations they’ve been through and this government needs to be doing more to nip such problems in the bud.”
Saturday, 27 March 2010
My Conservative opponent (aside from being blinded by the light (just like the rest of us to varying degrees) made much of his opposition to extending the franchise to 16 years old's - I suspect much of what he said, was also said about extending the franchise to women, about abolishing the business vote and extending the franchise to those under 21. One thing to remember is that at 16 you will (if you have a job) pay tax, so where's the representation?
And a final thought, have the Conservatives ever been in favour (as opposed to being against things) of anything?
Friday, 26 March 2010
The Budget Red Book, suggests that there will be a real terms cut of around 5% once inflation is taken into account –which will start not next year but in little less than two weeks time.There can be little doubt that there are deep cuts coming, which we can be sure will hit Wales hard before we begin to leave this recession behind. initially it was estimated that the Welsh budget would be hit by £2.8bn over three years, but recent revisions by independent bodies such as the Auditor General for Wales estimate £3bn or more over three years - however you spin it that's a big ouch"!
The failure to hold a Comprehensive Spending Review before the General Election and the failure to make it clear exactly where proposed cuts are going to being made, once again leaves the people of Wales well and truly in the dark – and unable to see what the effect will be upon Welsh public services. It is ironic that both New Labour and David ('Call me Dave') Cameron's Conservatives are very happy to tell us what they will keep in the UK Budget, but much more reticent when it comes to telling us what they will cut and where, which is the real issue.
The current funding formula for Wales, where the money for our public services comes from is decided by spending priorities of London, we in Wales will not know the effect upon Welsh public services over the next three years until they have been announced in detail in England. The Holtham Commission recommended that the Treasury in London produce an annual publication
which provides details of changes to the Assembly budget arising from decisions made in London - this has not happened.
The Welsh Department Expenditure Limit for 2009-10 was £16bn and will be £15.7bn in 2010-11 which begins on 6th April, 2010. Taking inflation into consideration this will be a cut of 5% year on year to the Welsh block grant.When it comes down to brass tacks, while this is an unacceptable state of affairs is acceptable to new Labour and Conservative MP's in Wales it is no and never wil be acceptable to Plaid and many people within Wales.
The only way this unacceptable state of affairs will be rectified is by ensuring that Wales has a strong voice in Westminster and the only way that is going to happen is by sending more Plaid Cymru MP's to Westminster. The old two parties have failed us, failed our communities and failed Wales. We need to think differently, we need more Plaid MP's something that will ensure
that people in Wales will be electing MP's who will actually stand up against these cuts wherever they will have a negative impact upon our communities and our public services. It's time to think different, its time to think Plaid.
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Yet all is not lost, locally in Monmouth constituency, the continuing campaign to retain the livestock market in Abergavenny shows that many people have real and serious concerns about the economic future and the character of their communities. Now we have to ask ourselves and Monmouthshire County Council some serious questions about who these decisions in relation to redevelopment are being made for? And why? And who really benefits, locally or otherwise, certainly not us the customers?
Plaid Honorary president Dafydd Wigley said:
“Town centres have an invaluable role to play, aside from attracting visitors, they are also play a vital economic and social role. Many of the most vulnerable people in our communities lack the means to access the large out of town developments and rely heavily on smaller, local shops. We all need to work together to ensure that our town centres have a viable future. Local councils, the Assembly government and the UK government must all take steps, but this won’t achieve anything if the community itself doesn’t get involved and support our local, town centre businesses. The UK government needs to work together with the Welsh and local government to introduce policies to sustain our town centres. For too long the London government has left small businesses to fend for themselves while they prop up big business. Despite bailing out the banks, many small businesses are unable to secure the credit they need to survive. This cannot be allowed to continue and this is why Plaid is calling for action now to put our town centres back at the heart of our communities.”
Plaid has outlined a number of proposals to put town centres back at the heart of our communities including:
• the extension of credit union principles to support small and medium sized businesses
• a change in planning regulations to promote sustainable communities
• a mandatory retail impact assessment with each major planning development
• a level playing field for smaller, local businesses
The Times (27th October 2009) reported that in 705 town centres that had been surveyed, 10 per cent of shops failed between January and September of 2009. While it would be easy to see this merely as a cold, hard financial fact, of jobs and business and a direct result of the free market, there is more to it than that.
Shops are more than merely the places we go to in order to buy; they are the unacknowledged secular hubs of our communities. It has long been noted that recessions change the way we shop, the collective, tightening of belts brings about a well-documented shift from specialist shopping, in butchers and bookshops, to a different model, whereby customers visit one superstore for a variety of needs.
While this may be an understandable short to medium term consequence of economic uncertainty, the consequences may be pretty long term, maybe (and maybe is the key word here) when things improve economically and collective wallets are loosened again, then shoppers will abandon their necessary economy drive, and return to smaller local outlets once more. However, for that to happen, the local shops and small businesses need to still be in business.
The Times survey revealed that those businesses suffering the most are the ones that make one community different from the next. More than a thousand bookshops have closed, almost three quarters of them independents. Britain has lost at least 233 florists, and 1,146 corner shops. At least 1,136 pubs have closed, as have 4,143 restaurants and cafes, and 2,201 hairdressers – however you spin it, and spin is the key word here, having sat a listened to Tesco’s spin doctor (at a recent party conference) claim that his company helped to stimulate local economies but enabling local niche businesses to emerge, presumably after Tesco has trashed or mopped up (take your pick) the local economy and put local shops and local businesses out of business that is.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) - and they should know - has noted that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss continues then by 2015, less than 5 years hence, there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that will badly hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential local job opportunities.
Over the last twenty five years, we have all seen the commercial hearts of many of our communities have been seriously damaged as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision making on the part of local government and central government indifference. The result of the abject failure or indifference of local and central government to develop realistic local economic plans and a failure to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers, has been combined with some very questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years, has directly lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to death.
The rise in the number of shops owned by larger retail chains damages the local economy, drains profit out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and reduces local job opportunities. Ten pound spent in a local business circulates in the local economy three times longer than if it is spent in a non local business. A real side effect of this is a real loss of a sense of community, a loss of local character as our high streets has lead to our high streets losing lost their distinctive local shops which have been replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches and any real loss of choice for the customers.
The Assembly Government, recently commissioned a review of planning in Wales, saying that there was a need to simplify the system, but, this should not take place at the expense of fundamentally damaging democratic control of the planning process. Any plans to speed up the planning process should not at the cost of creating unsustainable developments that further damage our high streets and our communities.
There is a real necessity that We work together to ensure that our town centres have a viable future. Local councils, the Assembly government and the UK government must all take concrete steps, but this won’t achieve anything if the community itself doesn’t get involved and support our local, town centre businesses. The UK government needs to work together with the Welsh and local government to introduce policies to sustain our town centres.
For far too long successive Conservative and New Labour London government's have left small businesses to fend for themselves while they prop up big business and their friends in the City. Despite the recent bail out the banks, many small businesses are still having problems securing the necessary credit they need to survive. This cannot be allowed to continue and this is why Plaid is calling for action now to put our town centres back at the heart of our communities.
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Under the fuel duty regulator plan, the Government will announce an expected yield from fuel duty and VAT in every Budget and PBR which will show the relationship between fuel duty and VAT. If there was a fuel regulator, then this would mean that if there was an unexpected spike in oil prices, fuel duty would be frozen while the increase in VAT caused by the price spike means that the Government would receive the predicted yield.
When there was a massive spike in prices in 2008, the Government found itself with an unexpected windfall while ordinary families were left struggling to survive.The purpose is not necessarily to prevent an increase in fuel duty but to smooth the shocks that come about from a volatile market. This protects poorer families and those living in rural areas who are more reliant upon cars, as well as any industry which requires petrol, e.g. haulage, taxis etc. It also impacts upon the public sector, such as police and ambulances.
The regulator as suggested only works in one direction. There is not an alternative if the market slows down. Over the longer term there is no future of fossil fuel based transport systems, Plaid favours the development of sustainable public transport which would enable people to reduce fossil fuel usage where possible, we believe in developing a sustainable green economy and more research and development to normalise more environmentally sustainable methods of transport than those which are oil-based (e.g. electric cars).
Now the idea of fuel regulator is not a new idea, Plaid and the SNP put down a motion (in 2008) on this very subject, which when it went to a vote on 2nd July 2008 resulted in a result of 308 to 14. Labour voted against, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sat on their hand and abstained, while Plaid and the SNP voted for. Some two weeks later, on the 16th July 2008, the Tories put down a similar motion. That time Labour and the Liberal Democrats voted together against the motion, while Plaid voted in favour.
An Early Day Motion, was tabled this week by Plaid’s Adam Price MP and the SNP’s Stewart Hosie MP, reads:
That this House notes the recent unexpected spike in the price of petrol at the pump, recognises that unexpected increases in the price of fuel impacts significantly upon hard-working families, businesses of all sizes, seriously affects those living in rural areas who have no transport alternative except private cars, and impacts upon the costs of public services; recognises the need for greater research, development and support for reducing our dependency upon oil for everyday use, but in the short-term calls for a freeze on fuel duty in this Budget to protect those affected by the current price spike and further calls for a fuel duty regulator to prevent unexpected spikes in prices from affecting hard working families in future.
Here we go again - a BBC investigation has discovered or rather revealed some hundreds of breaches of parliamentary rules by 'freeloading' MPs who accepted free overseas trips from foreign governments. At least, but probably more than 20 MPs broke rules on declaring hospitality in questions or debates after visiting locations such as the Maldives, Cyprus and Gibraltar. It has been estimated that between them, the MPs - from all the major parties - breached parliamentary regulations on more than 400 occasions.
The BBC lists the following MP's who have breached the rules in relation to foreign trips:
Monday, 22 March 2010
Any economic failure across the farming sector will have a significant impact on dependent small businesses and suppliers across the whole rural economy, in the small towns and across the Welsh countryside itself. 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.
With an election coming, despite Gordon's daily dithering, you can bet on one sure thing, if not on the date of Polling day, and that the fact that, particularly in a rural constituency, everyone out chasing votes will appear like magic and claim to be the farmer’s friend. Our farming communities, despite this forthcoming wave of warmth continue to feel pretty isolated and marginalized, at least the contempt with which the farmers used to be treated by the once New Labour Government in Westminster and until relatively recently in Cardiff Bay (at least until the arrival of Plaid and Elin Jones, the Plaid driven One Wales Government Agriculture Minister) is now a thing of the past, at least in Cardiff.
We, in Wales, cannot afford to neglect of the important agricultural sector, which still makes a significant contribution to our rural economy. And speaking of the farmers old traditional friends, it's 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, our farmers need a fair deal and a level playing field where they can make a real contribution. 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.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
The New Labour member in question was good old Stephen Byers, the former trade and transport secretary, he was secretly recorded offering himself “like a sort of cab for hire” (for want of a better phrase) for up £5,000 a day. He also suggested bringing Tony Blair to meet clients. Byers was among several politicians recorded by an undercover reporter posing as a company executive looking to hire MPs for lobbying work.
The Sunday Times names:
- Patricia Hewitt, a former health secretary, who claimed she helped to obtain a key seat on a government advisory group for a client paying her £3,000 a day.
- Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, offered to lead delegations to ministers and told the reporter that he was looking to turn his knowledge and contacts into “something that frankly makes money”. He said he charged £3,000 a day.
- Margaret Moran, the Luton MP who was forced to pay back £22,500 in expenses, boasted that she could ring a “girls’ gang” of colleagues on behalf of clients. Among those she named were: Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary; Hazel Blears, the former communities secretary; and Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour party.
The investigation and the interviews were undertaken as part of a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in which 13 Labour MPs and seven Conservatives were approached. The uncomfortable disclosures should raise further questions about the relationship between the large number of MPs leaving parliament next month and their contacts who remain in government.
Now while this should be grimly embarrassing for Gordon Brown's failing New Labour Government, it should be doubly embarrassing for the Conservatives. As all of this comes about after David ('Call me Dave') Cameron, the Conservative leader, recently said that lobbying was the next political scandal waiting to happen.
He should know some investigative journalism by The Times (25th September 2009) revealed that 28 prospective Conservative candidates who have reasonably good chances of becoming Tory MPs were actually working as lobbyists or public relations consultants on behalf of businesses and other interests.
The Times has revealed that over a quarter of them got their jobs after being selected to fight seats. A number have put their hands up to admit that they had set up meetings for clients with Conservative Shadow ministers, MPs and officials. Others said that they provided advice on the party’s direction and some admitted to lobbying Tory Frontbenchers on behalf of clients.
At least one fifth of his 150 parliamentary candidates who are likely to get freshly elected will have worked in the nicely lucrative field of public affairs or communications. Ironically, The Times notes, only 7 Labour and 3 Lib Dem parliamentary candidates (with a chance of being elected) will have had jobs in public relations or communications.
Concerns within the troubled depths of the Conservative Party may have prompted action from Francis Maude, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, who last week suggested that lobbyists may face statutory regulation if they did not volunteer more information on clients and consultants, he went on to say:’ “Greater openness and transparency is needed to help ensure high standards in public life” ‘, I think that the jury may still be out on that one…amongst the Tories, but perhaps not amongst the electorate.
These people (New Labour or Conservative) are so cut of from reality that they think that this sort of behaviour is acceptable - it might be to them and within their obviously pretty limited social circles, but it's not acceptable to most people, especially the voters. We need strict rules to restrict the activities of former elected members in relation to lobby, at a very basic level no one should be able to use the knowledge that they have accumulated while engaged in public service.
For at the end of the day, public service is actually what being an MP is actually about, not using ones position to line your pocket. Former MPs should not be able to get a job that is engaged in lobby activity for a minimum of 5 years after ceasing to be an MP. The bottom line being go get a real job!
Friday, 19 March 2010
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, a member of the Lords committee that vetted Lord Ashcroft for his peerage ten years ago has now admitted that she had been shocked and surprised to hear two weeks ago that he was still not a full UK taxpayer. While giving testimony to a Commons select committee, the Baroness said she had assumed that Lord Ashcroft had fulfilled his undertaking to become a "permanent resident" of the UK - oddly enough it appears that William Hague thought the same thing.
The Times (March 18th) reported that the man himself - Lord Ashcroft and William Hague, the former Tory leader (who had an uneasy 20 minutes on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme) and who pushed the honour through, had both been invited to appear before the Commons Public Administration Committee in its special hearing on "propriety and peerages". The Times discreetly noted that both men refused to attend because they considered the Committee to be partisan.
Oddly enough the Committee's three Tory members also boycotted the hearing — giving its Labour MPs a clear run at their target. From David ('Call me Dave') Cameron's position the sooner this ends the better, but, I suspect that there is much more to come before a discreet veil is drawn over this sorry business.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
The BBC understands that most of the women detained in Havana were released shortly afterwards. Orlando Zapata Tamayo was the first Cuban activist to starve himself to death in protest in nearly 40 years. The case of Zapata, who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and led to significant international condemnation and calls for the immediate release of all Cuba's detained dissidents.
However, recently Cuba's Communist authorities by way of response to outside pressure and international bad publicity have gone on the offensive against dissidents at home and abroad. This protest was the third held this week by the Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanca) to mark the anniversary of the crackdown in the one-party Communist state which began seven years ago and continues to this day.
The women were heckled by hundreds of well organised government supporters as they left a church in the Parraga neighbourhood with Reyna Luisa Tamayo, who alleges that her son was tortured in jail and that his death amounted to premeditated murder. Police officers and interior ministry agents later asked the women to end their march and take shelter in two government buses. After they repeatedly refused, several female officers moved in and put them on to the buses by force.
The Cuban government routinely describes the dissidents as common criminals who were paid by the US to destabilise the country. Thursday (18th March) is the anniversary of the mass arrests in 2003, the majority of whom remain detained remain behind bars. The anniversary would probably have passed unnoticed but for the death of Zapata, he adds. When the European Parliament voted last week to condemn his death, Cuba responded by launching a counter attack on the EU.
Highly critical articles have appeared on the front page of the official newspaper Granma almost every day since then. Police brutality in Europe was the latest headline, while racism, unemployment and poverty in Europe were others, our correspondent says. The EU has ineffectually called for a policy of engagement and dialogue with the communist-run island, a policy that sits in stark opposite to the continuing US trade embargo. In truth, the US trade embargo, which hurts the ordinary people rather than the Communist Government and its ilk, needs to come to an end.
There is a need for free and fully democratic elections in Cuba - perhaps this last Communist dictatorship may yet be finally consigned into the dustbin of history - either way the decision needs to be made neither by the US Government or the Communist Dictatorship, but, by the Cuban people.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
The strategy aims to increase the demand for timber and other woodland products. This is important because an increase in demand for timber will sustain and expand our forest industry and business sector and help make a valid contribution to our economy and could help to provide our hard pressed farmers with an alternative income stream. The strategy also highlights the use of wood as fuel and timber as a replacement to more energy-intensive materials like steel and concrete, which will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint as trees can store carbon for hundreds of years or more.
What makes our woodlands and trees particularly useful is that they can provide many of these services all at the same time. Through the plans actions, the Plaid driven One Wales Government aims to increase the woodland cover of Wales and to increase the range of tree species in those woodlands, making them more resilient to climate change. Our local woodlands have so much to offer with opportunities for enjoying recreation, improving health and well being, learning and developing skills, supporting small business and developing local communities.
The Woodlands for Wales strategy has recognised how important woodlands and trees are in helping to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits and that they can help with tackling climate change. The action plan was developed by Forestry Commission Wales on behalf of the Plaid driven One Wales Government and highlights the use of wood as fuel and timber as a replacement to more energy-intensive materials like steel and concrete, which will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint as trees can store carbon for hundreds of years or more.
The key here is long term; it makes such a difference to have a minister of the caliber of Elin Jones (AM), who as Plaid Minister for Rural Affairs has the confidence and strength to make long term decisions. And makes no bones about it, this is an ambitious long term strategy which recognises that Welsh woodlands and trees can deliver more benefits through taking bold actions. Our woodlands and trees not only provide the more obvious products such as timber or sites for recreational activities but also the less obvious services such as addressing the effects of climate change and protecting soil and water resources.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Sir Paul Kennedy dismissed Dr Fox's appeal against the Legg Review’s finding that he was overpaid after he remortgaged his flat to pay for its redecoration. “What you claimed was not recoverable under the rules then in force,” he said. The news will significantly embarrass David Cameron, who has urged senior party members to comply fully with the audit of expense claims carried out by Sir Thomas Legg. I wonder if Lord Ashcroft is beginning to wonder what he bought or was sold - the phrase 'pig in a poke' comes to mind.
In truth, you could not make this up, embarrassingly for Dave, it is the sheer scale of Dr Fox’s repayment, something that has placed him well on top of the current Shadow Cabinet repayment list, that may cause some red faces or perhaps that's a side effect of a frightfully good claret. Dr Fox, however, is not so closely followed, by the next highest repayment, £5,229, which comes from Owen Paterson, currently the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.
The good news for us mortals is that the fantastic Dr Fox has already repaid the money he inadvertently claimed. It was found that Dr Fox’s claims were between £2,045 and £6,004 too high each year between 2004 and 2009, and he was paid twice for service charges in 2006 and 2007. Now Dr Fox challenged the Legg Report’s finding that he was overpaid by £22,476.03 after increasing the mortgage on his London flat from £120,000 to £300,000, using most of the capital to pay for a family home in his Woodspring constituency and to refurbish his second home.
Dr Fox, claimed that he thought taking out a higher mortgage was more cost-effective for the taxpayer than claiming for all the repairs individually - I think that my financial adviser might suggest a slightly different method of saving money. Sir Paul Kennedy, however, found that the money claimed by Dr Fox was not recoverable under the rules in force until 2006, under which allowances could not be claimed on additional mortgages secured on the same property.
And these people seriously think they can run the UK?
Monday, 15 March 2010
Now in the run up to an election there are times when half the world or it seems like half the world will be chasing PPC's to sign up to this and to sign up to that, etc. While normally I am somewhat reluctant to sign up to all and sundry, this RSP campaign is a little different, which is the reason I am more than happy to sign up. The RSPB aims to gain tens of thousands of signatures to the letter before the next general election, showing the government that people care about nature as well as the economy and want to see it protected for the benefit of future generations.
Even though we are in the midst of a grave financial crisis which may take many years to sought out; we cannot ignore the equally serious crisis facing our natural world. Precious habitats are currently being lost; many species face extinction and the threat of climate change is looming large. The UK Government has spent billions of pounds in order to try and rescue our economy – something that we and future generations will still be paying for.
We owe it to future generations to ensure that this massive investment addresses not just our needs today but also of those tomorrow by creating a healthy economy and healthy environment. This is why I am supporting the RSPB’s campaign because I want our children and grandchildren to be able to grow up in a world where then can appreciate tigers and sparrows, tropical rainforest's and bluebell woods – a world worth living for.
More details about the RSPB’s Letter to the Future campaign can be found at: http://www.rsp.org.uk/lettertothefuture
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Friday, 12 March 2010
Of course we are, however dealing with BBC Wales, so don't hold your breath... anyway Come on the Port!!!
Thursday, 11 March 2010
The potential of green energy to generate jobs is also in the offing with Mabey Bridge (at Chepstow and Gloucester) looking to develop wind turbines which should create 240 jobs and lead to an investment of £38m in its base in Monmouthshire - this type of project should create hundreds of skilled and technical posts. The UK government's somewhat belated plan to pay people for providing clean energy should be welcomed, which when combined with feed-in tariffs, could make small scale hydropower a realistic and attractive method of generating energy and income.
There is absolutely no reason why many of the smaller scale energy generation schemes could not be community owned generating income for our communities and providing a degree of ownership as well as income. Small scale schemes, could also benefit our farmers by helping to provide them with another income stream as well as eliminating or significantly reducing their energy bills. With built in environmental safeguards, including the provision of fish passes something that could be encouraged by specific grants, small scale hydro electric energy schemes could provide long term sustainable benefits to local communities in terms of cheaper energy, jobs and income.
The Plaid driven One Wales Government has allocated an initial £15m of funding to help Welsh community organisations invest in technology to generate clean, renewable energy – this is good start but more clearly can be done. While this is good news, but we need 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.
If we are going 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 its dependence on fuel supplies from unstable regions and unsavory regimes.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Monday, 8 March 2010
Some 57,600 homes from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were sold to City Financiers and then rent them back to troops for a profit. The terms of the deal, made in 1996 meant that the MoD remained responsible for the properties' upkeep and claimed that the extra cash from the deal would provide badly needed funds to help refurbish them. However, it has since emerged that the Westminster Government diverted most of the money elsewhere.
Successive Conservative and New labour Governments have treated our servicemen and their families with contempt, no wonder some people believe that it no longer matters which of the two larger party's is in government, as our servicemen will be treated with contempt, forced to buy their own kit and treated to a total lack of interest and yet time and time again it is our servicemen that will be called on to step in to pull the fat from the fire whether it is dealing with the consequences of strikes, disasters, the saving lives at sea, foot and mouth and almost everything else as an when necessary.
Sunday, 7 March 2010
There is a profound need to target economic policy on a regional basis across Wales, so that everyone benefits, not only those living immediately alongside the M4 corridor. The Plaid driven one Wales Government needs to help grow our small to medium enterprise (SME) sector, side by side with supporting the re-skilling of the workforce, if we do this then we can secure sustainable, long term economic growth and employment, if we don’t then we may slip back to boom and bust.
We are still facing a major economic challenge as large production companies see Eastern Europe (and beyond) as a cheaper location. Our rural industries, as well as those inside the traditional industrial heartland are especially vulnerable, as their economic viability is brought into question by a variety of reasons, including the astronomical rise in fuel and energy costs, the economic power of the supermarkets, European regulations on waste disposal, and the issues surrounding food imports as many companies are operating on somewhat slender profit margins.
One of the lessons that can be learned from Ireland is that a workforce’s skills are still fundamental to the success of a country’s economy and to economic development. Ireland was able to use use a third of its European funding to educate its workforce with new skills, as long as we are unable to do this here in Wales then our small businesses and our workforce will be disadvantaged. In Ireland the lower corporation tax was key component in attracting international investment.
Between 1972 and 2002 the Irish economy grew, on average, by 5% a year whilst the growth of the Welsh economy was less than 2% a year. In planning our economic future, we need hands on rather than hands off; it is vital that we look to our own resources and specifically to developing the SME sized businesses. Our local businesses, rather than multi national firms are much less likely to pack up and leave Wales for the cheaper labour markets of Eastern Europe and Asia.
Friday, 5 March 2010
The Deep Rural Localities report which was commissioned by the assembly government and was produced by the Wales Rural Observatory, a group of experts based at Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities, is well worth a read. While the researchers specifically looked at the experiences of four communities that are located around Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa in north Powys, Llangammarch Wells in south Powys, around Tegryn in north Pembrokeshire and Aberdaron on the Lleyn peninsula, much of the findings have equal validity in relation to the rest of rural Wales.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) has rightly said rural areas are not being treated fairly and that deep rural communities should have exactly the same access and level of services as other places in Wales. The CPRW has called on the assembly to give these rural areas the same protected equality status as minority groups.
The report, which focused its research on what has been described as "deep" rural areas, which is defined as rural communities that are located at least 30 minutes' drive-time from a centre with a population of more than 10,000. The focus was on rural communities that comprised of between 180 – 500 Households and rural communities that had fewer than five of twelve ‘key’ services, which were defined as:
- Food only shop
- Post Office
- Petrol station
- Bank or Building Society
- General Practitioner
- Dental surgery
- Educational establishment
- Permanent library
- Police station
- Bus stop or railway station
- Cash machine
The report also noted rural residents concerns about limited availability of public transport, the little affordable housing, the more expensive vehicle fuel and the higher prices in local shops. Now many of the issues and concerns identified apply equally to the rural areas of Monmouthshire which have suffered a loss of rural post offices, the loss of rural shops, poor public transport and the closure of small schools over recent years.
Amongst its conclusions the report noted, that:
- 94% of respondents rated their quality of life as either 'very good' or 'fairly good'.
- Respondents tended to cite peace and quiet, feelings of community, a slower pace of life, landscape and scenery as things they liked in their area.
- 36% of residents rated general service provision in their local area as 'poor' or 'very poor'.
- 63% rated the provision of hospitals as 'poor' or 'very poor'.
- 75% of respondents considered a school to be 'essential' in their local area; 21% considered it to be 'desirable'.
- 82% of respondents considered a Post Office to be 'essential'; 16% stated that it was 'desirable'.
- 58% of respondents considered broadband to be 'essential' and 33% stated that it was 'desirable' – but only 51% of total respondents received broadband services.
- 92% of respondents considered access to a car to be 'essential'. Only 4% of total households did not have access to a private vehicle.
- Public transport was generally rated as poor.
- 80% of properties had central heating. Similarly high proportions had loft insulation and double glazing.
- The standard of heating and energy saving was not as high in rented properties: 30% did not have central heating; 30% did not have loft insulation; and 31% did not have double glazing.
- 59% of households were not connected to mains drainage.
The research (and the report) also gave rural residents the opportunity to suggest what could be done to improve things. Respondents from all categories provided suggestions for promoting and enhancing the sustainability of their local areas.
- Financial incentives for Small to medium enterprises and other rural businesses;
- High quality broadband and telecommunications;
- Governance arrangements that include local communities, local government, local businesses and organisations such as the FC, RSPB and Severn Trent Water;
- ‘Rural relief’ with regard to fuel, food, vehicle excise duty and Council Tax;
- New criteria to assess rural local government budgets;
- A more sympathetic and empathetic rural planning system;
- More affordable housing;
- Address the issue of holiday homes;
- Recognise the value of the pharmacy network and utilise it for service delivery in rural areas;
- Group service providers together under one roof in rural offices;
- Internet cafes;
- Student bus/train passes;
- Subsidised group travel for young people to access leisure facilities.
Similar concerns have been identified in rural England, as highlighted by the BBC on Thursday 4th March.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
The reports findings have revealed that 40 per cent of people in England feel that Scotland receives more than its fair share of public funds - an increase from 22 per cent in 2003. With just under half of those asked believing that England's laws should continue to be made at Westminster and 29 per cent now back a new parliament for the country. The number of people supporting an English parliament increased from 18 per cent to 29 per cent in 10 years. The report interestingly enough, shows that support was strongest among those who described themselves as English rather than British. The findings were based on interviews between June and November last year among 980 people living in England.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
The Times (1st March 2010) published a short guide to the money donated by Lord Ashcroft, his companies and his relations:
2001: £6,996 cash and £51,750 non cash
2002: £22,980 non cash
Lord Ashcroft for visit for Liam Fox to Oman and Saudi Arabia in 2006: £3,200
2003: £27,000 cash
2004: £274,063 cash plus £9,269 non cash
2005: £667,165 cash plus £28,291 non cash
2006: £59,136 cash plus £444,619 non cash
2007: £275,000 cash plus £1.42m non cash
2008: £300,000 cash plus £1.3m non cash
2009: £0 cash plus £329,858 non cash
Bearwood to "Conservatives for Change" in 2002/3: £24,000
2006 2 trips, to Khartoum and Prague £19,819
2009 3 trips, to US, Qatar and China £20,393
Just to make things interesting it does not stop here...
Susan Anstey (Lady Ashcroft)
2003: £5,100 cash plus £5,777 non cash
2004: £9,350 cash plus £76,382 non cash
2005: £7,000 non cash
2006: £20,860 cash plus £51,850 non cash
2008: £263,000 cash plus £600 non cash
2009: £5,000 cash plus £124,520 non cash
Susan Anstey to David Cameron leadership campaign in 2005: £20,000
Susan Anstey to Steve Norris campaign: £75,000
Bearwood total since David Cameron came in (Q1 2006 to Q4 2009): £4.13 out of £89.5 million (4.6 per cent)
Fascinating... is this called representation without taxation?
The London Olympic Games, described as Tony Blair's legacy to Britain, was once the bid was won in July 2005, then being estimated to cost a mere £2.4 billion pounds. By November 2006, Tessa Jowell (the Secretary of State for Sport) quietly admitted that costs had risen to £3.3 billion. In March 2007, Tessa Jowell announced a revised budget of £9.3 billion bounds.
Some other numbers to think about - the Sydney Olympics made a profit of £3.3 billion pounds. The Athens Olympic games cost £9 billion pounds. The Beijing Games cost some £22 billion pounds. Jack Lemley (the former Olympic Delivery Authority Chairman) suggested as early as April 2008 that the London Olympics could cost £20 billion pounds.
It looks like, before the paint dried and the first race is run that the London focused games are going to cost and we are all going to pay for it for some time to come (and then some) - thanks Tony!