Thursday, 30 September 2010
Monday, 27 September 2010
The electrification scheme was originally proposed by New Labour it was to go only intended to extend as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Plaid driven One Wales Government did they agreed to electrify the line as far as Swansea.
The 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. Now of course it hangs by a thread (alongside much else) as we await the financial white smoke from the Treasury.
One question that should be asked is are we too focused on the rail link to London, which has long needed electrification. Here are some statistics to think about:
Electrified Rail in Europe
Source: UIC Website: http://uic.asso.fr
Electrified Rail in Wales (After 13 years of New Labour Government).
Pretty disgraceful if you ask me? It has been suggested that this particular rail project be put on the back burner so to speak and serious consideration be given to electrifying the valley lines down to the coastal belt. What we are talking about is the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff (and Newport) line, the lines in Western Gwent, the lines down from Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Valleys to Cardiff and lines into Swansea and Bridgend.
I would love to say that it was my idea, but, it's not Sion Barry (in the Western Mail) mentioned it on Friday 24th September. Now if we get creative and use part of WAG's Annual Transport budget, which comes in at around £0.76 billion. If we make creative use of European matched funding then we could be talking about doing the business. Sion Barry - estimating some £200 million for the valley lines into Cardiff. We can do the London link later, lets do something lasting for our Valley communities and lets look doing it now.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The 2007 target of sourcing 50% of power needs from green sources within ten years can easily be reached, according to the research. By 2011 Scotland should reach 31%, and there are several large projects, which have already won approval, and will come on stream after that. Wales is also rich when it comes to being blessed with significant potential when it comes to developing its renewable resources; we just lack the powers necessary to develop our own energy policy.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
I am wondering whether or not Vince Cable is the new John Prescott, by which I mean someone who is rolled out annually at the Party Conferences merely to make the right noises amongst all the smoke and mirrors to distract the eye and the heart and to keep the park faithful and the rank and file happy / quiet with a combination of the usual 'right on' rhetoric, sound bites and radical sounding statements.
Yet, once the sound and fury have subsided little or nothing has changed... certainly not the Party policy or Party actions in the corridors of Whitehall. From a Lib Dem leadership point of view this must be worth a punt or two. I mean this worked for years for Tony Blair with New Labour, so there is no earthly reason why it should not work for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, who have happily climbed into bed with the Tories.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
The real interesting part of the days proceedings lies with the conspicuous silence in relation to any mutterings and musings about introducing a windfall tax on energy companies which could help people in their struggle with rising gas and electricity bills – and curb excessive profiteering from what has effectively become a closed energy market.
The reality is that we have a monopoly on energy supply in the UK, the number of energy supply companies fell to six in the last eleven, with barely more than a £30 differential between all of the energy supply companies, which works out to be no more than a few pence a week difference in bills. The energy cartel brings pretty minimal benefit to hard pressed energy customers, being pretty quick to blame rising oil and gas prices, and even quicker to rake in the profits.
It is worth remembering, lest we forget, that the average annual dual fuel bill rose from £662 a year in 2005 to 1,048 in 2007. The then New Labour Government was more than happy to rake in the extra tax revenues – the only loser in this happy picture was us, the energy customers.
New Labour’s failed conspicuously to do anything about a windfall tax on excessive profits from the energy companies. I suspect that the Con Dem's will also do nothing and fail to consider a windfall tax to curb excess profits from the utility companies.
Forget dual fuel bills, what we have here is a dual political failure that crosses the political divide (such as it is) and speaks volumes as to how far both New Labour, the Lib Dems and even the Conservatives have left behind the ordinary people in favour of continually courting the money men in the City.
Sadly for growing numbers of ordinary families this winter it may come down to a choice of eat or heat as the interests of big profit for big business comes before the needs of ordinary families. No one, in the 21st century, should be forced to make a choice between putting food on the table for their family and heating their home, but that's where many people may find themselves. Not that long ago families could live on one salary; but today people are working all hours of the day to cope.
This situation has arisen of a culture that rewards recklessness in the city of London, which has promoted a vast increase in credit, and an absurd house price boom. A fatal combination of greed, recklessness and little regulation ensured that we have arrived at the credit crunch something that brought real economic hardship for many and enriched the few.
Monday, 20 September 2010
Oddly enough this news has not gone down particularly well, with the Independent rail passenger watchdog Passenger Focus saying that the decision was a blow for passengers who were elderly, had medical conditions and travelled with children. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers' union (RMT) said on a journey of that length it was "unacceptable". Once we abandoned control of key elements of the public transport infrastructure to the whims of the market then this is part of the price that we all will begin to pay. Watch this space for future developments...
Saturday, 18 September 2010
The news that the Welsh affairs committee is in October set to examine the future of the bridges after the crossings have reverted to public ownership should also be welcomed. At the moment the concessions are operated by a private company, the Severn Bridge will return to government ownership when the firm has collected a fixed sum of money from tolls.
The committee plans to look at how tolls on the bridges affect the Welsh economy, the amount of cash that is spent on maintaining the bridges, their future when they return to public ownership and at the level of the tolls, payment methods, the impact of the tolls on tourism and the condition of the bridges.
It's good to see that some of our local New Labour MPs are fully behind this enquiry, which is what you would expect - Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East (and a member of the committee) has welcomed the move (in June of this year), saying that the tolls could be lowered for people living in the surrounding area: “Like the Dartford crossing I can't see why you shouldn't be able to get a concession for those within a certain postcode area.”
Now this is all well and good and very welcome but a tad late, as lest we forget, that New or Unreconstructed Old Labour (under Tony Blair and then Gordon 'Houdini' Brown) were firmly in power (with significant majorities) from 1997 until 2010 so why did they not do something about the Severn bridge tolls then when they had the opportunity?
It's also worth remembering 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 crossing's damaged cables - which suggests that the bridge tolls are being used as little more than a cash cow, should not come as much of a surprise to many people.
This little gem was extracted by Plaid Cymru's South Wales Central AM Chris Franks, who obtained the figures (in June 2010) under the Freedom of Information Act. The FOI request showed a significant difference between the large amounts of money raised by Severn River Crossing PLC from the toll, and the relatively small amount being spent on treating the damage to the cables on the old crossing.
The Highways Agency suggested that another £5.8m worth of maintenance will take place over the next five years. This despite the fact that some £225,733,000 has been collected in bridge toll revenue since 2006. People may well begin to wonder if they are going to get saddled with major work to maintain the bridges after the toll profits have been siphoned off by the concessionary company when the bridges are finally returned to public ownership in 2014 or 2016.
Even when you looking beyond the immediate teeth grinding impact of yet another annual increase in the Severn bridge tolls (which we will all face in January 2011) there is another issue – one that is beginning to become worth considering, what's going to happen in 2014 (or 2016) when it has been estimated that the PFI contract will have been covered by toll receipts.
Who actually is going to own the bridge (or bridges) and will they stop collecting the tolls? If not then the bridge (or bridges) which sit on the border - with the toll on the newer bridge being collected in Wales, and the older one being collected in England - will the bridge and the tolls simply revert back to the Department of Transport?
Or if perchance the whole package ends with the National Assembly, by default, then if the current tolls were halved then, what could be accomplished by using a percentage to cover maintenance of the bridge and using the remainder of the toll for ring fenced capital projects – such as new integrated transport systems, reopening railway lines, funding tram systems and investing in rail freight – which would be far more beneficial for all of us in Wales than the finance disappearing into the Westminster coffers or to bail out the bankers?
Something else that is worth noting that in October 2009, Sadiq Khan, the then New Labour Minister of Transport, announced a grant of £6m to the Humber Bridge company, saying that, “the Government was committed to doing everything it can to protect communities and businesses from economic downturn and help the country to recover. That is why I decided not to accept the Humber Bridge board's proposed toll increases” if that's the case in England, then why not in Wales?
Friday, 17 September 2010
The festival, which is now well established, enriches the market town of Abergavenny and the surrounding area and adds to Abergavenny's reputation as the ‘Gateway to Wales’. The Food Festival, is one of those well organised events that has helped to put the town on the map, and manages successfully to attract visitors from far and wide - both locally and from around the world and showcases exceptional local Welsh produce, local businesses and services and local talent - of which we have plenty of fine examples in the former county of Gwent.
This year's festival, building on previous successes promises to be even better – the festival organisers and participants have helped make a real difference to Abergavenny and have added to the festivals well deserved and growing reputation as well as giving the traditional market town an international reputation and profile.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
The CPRE has noted according to its own study that the reintroduction of such a scheme would reduce costs to the public sector by some £160m per year. Another benefit from charging a deposit for plastic and glass drinks bottles would the CPRE says potentially lead to a drastic reduction in litter.
The way it might work would be for consumers to be charged a small fee when they buy a bottle, which would be refunded when it is returned. I am old enough to remember when a deposit for returned bottles was routine and a regular feature of life.charged for drinks bottles decades ago. The deposit would be repayable when the container is dropped off at an authorised site.
The CPRE thinks that such a scheme would help to protect the landscape, reduce litter and help the government especially when it comes to moving towards a "zero waste" economy with increased recycling rates. This is well worth considering and worthy of further study in Wales.
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
The Western Mail (13th September) revealed that across Wales, two councils and two police forces had already confirmed that some 2,000 job cuts were very likely.
Jonathan Edwards, the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, used a Freedom of Information request to the National Assembly to discover the true scale of the £1 billion loss. A similar request made to Whitehall resulted in a response that the Treasury did not hold a record of money sent it by the 22 Welsh councils.
At the moment under existing arrangements, Local Councils in Wales that raise more from council rents than they have to spend in maintenance on the homes must send any surplus cash to the UK Government. This cash is then redistributed to that those authorities which spend more on refurbishment and repairs than they receive in rent. Records of the transactions for each council are known as the Housing Revenue Account (HRA).
The figures make interesting reading, especially locally:
Net loss from Housing Revenue Account 1999/2000 to 2010/2011
Blaenau Gwent £23,383,743
Net gain from Housing Revenue Account 1999/2000 to 2010/2011
Merthyr Tydfil £4,777,139
The grand total lost to Wales since establishment of the National Assembly comes to:
This has got to change and change quickly...
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett (the Police Superintendents' Association President) will in a speech the Police Superintendents Annual Conference, in Cheshire this Wednesday, state that there is a need for a "strong and confident" police force in the face of government austerity measures. So much for the idea of us all being in it together! To make things potentially more interesting the Con Dem Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to be in the audience at the conference.
So we have reached the point where the Con Dems are planning to cut Police (both uniformed and civilian support staff) numbers whilst we are dealing with the effects of the recession. So much for being Conservative this is radically new territory, even Mrs Thatcher (in her more lucid moments well before she went mad towards the end of her tenure as PM) never ever considered doing this for one moment.
Far from it, Mr’s T in the early days of her premiership made real efforts to raise Police pay (and to improve conditions) – something which won her a combination of tacit approval, tacit support or tacit indifference from the Police service at the time, which had been neglected under the previous struggling (Old) Labour Government. In the 1970's there had been an erosion of police pay and working conditions. This was certainly not the case under New Labour who raised Police numbers and ensured that they consistently pretty well paid.
So perhaps this is the real financial rubicon - the real indicator about the scale of the price we will all have to pay for a combination of New Labour’s ‘reckless spending’, the ongoing financial legacy of Blair’s wars, bailing out the banks, replacing Trident (which is an essential prop if Britain wants to continue stride the world stage whilst clinging on to the pretension's of being a World power), etc.
David (“Call me Dave”) Cameron's Con Dem Government's is paused on the question of not so much as to cut or not to cut, but more a matter of how deep and how severe the cuts will be? Things must be bad if the Con Dems are 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? Heaven help the rest of us?
And of course as Policing is not devolved this is a decision that will be made in Westminster which could have a significant impact upon communities the length and breadth of Wales. The Plaid MP's in Westminster will no doubt eloquently make the case for Wales (they always do!) but the massed ranks of Conservatives and their Lib Dem little helpers will no doubt overrule the voices of reason from within the Plaid ranks. The sooner Policing and Home Affairs are devolved to the National Assembly in Wales the better...
Monday, 13 September 2010
Madoc said: “We are all well aware of the way in which the resources of Wales have in the past been used largely for the benefit of others. Although the exploitation of coal and slate in Wales created jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, the great majority of the profits were spirited out of the country by mine owners and the slate quarry owners. The likes of the magnificent edifices of Cardiff Castle and Penrhyn Castle stand as testimony to the enormous wealth that Wales and its people generated for others.”
He noted that Wales’ water had been exploited by others in the past. Madoc cited the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965 to provide water for Liverpool against the will of local people and Welsh MPs, and added: “We now face a further assault on our natural resources. The potential to produce electricity from renewable resources in our offshore waters is huge, and comes from two sources. The first is the exploitation of the wind through offshore wind-farms and the other is the exploitation of maritime energy through tidal and sea current and wave generated power.”
The UK Government has announced that there will be a huge new offshore wind farm off the coast of North Wales called Gwynt y Mor. This development is planned to have a capacity of 576 megawatts which is equal to around 60% of Wylfa nuclear power station’s capacity and sufficient to supply 400,000 households. This represents about 8% of Wales’ total current electricity production. An even bigger wind-farm, part of which is in Welsh waters, is planned further out into the Irish Sea. It will be up to eight times Gwynt y Mor’s size and capable of providing electricity for three million households – far more than the entire population of Wales.
It's worth noting that another large wind-farm is also being planned for the Bristol Channel. And it is worth remembering that the UK Government has been consulting on the generation of electricity through tidal power in the Severn Estuary, and is now reviewing a shortlist of proposals. The amount of electricity that could be generated in the Welsh waters of the Severn Estuary alone could be enough to supply another three million households or more. Yet Wales was not mentioned once in the economic consultation paper.
Madoc said: “Does Wales need such an enormous increase in its capacity to generate electricity? Even now it exports about 20% of the electricity it generates to England, and a new gas-fired power station has recently been opened in Pembrokeshire.
"Our hillsides are increasingly being covered in wind turbines and there are proposals to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. These huge new energy facilities are being built to feed England’s need for additional electricity, not our own.
“Who benefits? The new Gwynt y Mor wind farm is owned by three German companies: Siemens, who will be building the turbines in Europe, RWE the German power company and the municipal utility company of Munich, a publicly owned body that believes in renewable energy.
“Who is the owner and who decides? The Crown Estate owns the seabed around the UK out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit, and 65% of the Welsh foreshore. It also owns the mineral rights on or under the seabed from the coastline out to the edge of the UK continental shelf, not including oil and gas.
“It is the Crown Estate that not only owns our seabed but also decides on the licences for who can exploit them. The Welsh Government has no planning powers for power stations above a paltry 50MW. Electricity generation, transmission and supply of electricity are specifically excluded from powers that would be transferred under the referendum.”
The Crown Estate, yet another useful quango was created in 1961. Its excess profits find there way to the Treasury. Working together with other departments in Whitehall, the Crown Estate decides how the natural resources should be parcelled out, how they should be exploited and who should get the benefit.
Madoc noted that any energy sales from these power stations would be worth many hundreds of millions of pounds a year once their development costs had been paid off.
“Ownership and control of these assets would transform the finances of the Welsh Government and provide a springboard for the development of new renewable energy job opportunities in Wales,” he said.
“Our own resources are being stolen under our noses in the name of the environmental good of the UK. The jobs will go elsewhere and the profits will go elsewhere. The power installations in the Severn Estuary are designed to last for 120 years.
“Once they have been sold off by the British state, the ability of Wales to benefit from its own natural wealth will have been removed for many generations to come.”
“If we do not fight now to claim these resources for Wales, not only will we suffer, but so will our children and their children. Make no mistake: the Crown Estate and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are even now selling the future of Wales for England’s current needs.”
Madoc said ownership of its maritime renewable power resources was the single most important issue facing Wales today. “The value of these resources is capable of transforming our economy. It is a vital key to unlocking our economic freedom. But if these resources are sold out to private companies, they will be unavailable to us for generations to come.”
Madoc said that under the 1961 Act of Parliament that set up the Crown Estate, it would be easy to transfer ownership of Wales’ offshore energy resources to the Assembly Government for no cost. This is something that is also being looked at in Scotland...and thanks to Madoc perhaps we can begin to shine a little light on what Crown Estates is up to in (and off the coast) of Wales.
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Back in June 2009, the Scottish Parliament passed important Landmark legislation to help Scotland tackle the threat of climate change. Interestingly enough the legislation was passed unanimously by MSPs. Scottish Minsters set themselves tough targets, aiming for a 42% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, which will rise to 80% by 2050.
The Scottish plan is certainly more ambitious than anything that has emerged from any recent Westminster proposals. Aside from meeting carbon targets, the legislation also aimed to boost renewable energy and drive forward an improvement in energy efficiency. What's also worth noting is that there was a pretty unanimous consent for this legislation, which cleared the last parliamentary hurdle , after Scottish ministers raised their original 2020 target from 34% to 40%. Oh for intelligent debate and legislative powers...
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
The second item that caught my attention was the coverage on the BBC of the immanent collapse (save for some sort of divine fiscal intervention) of Connaught, which despite its difficulties over recent moths was a FTSE 250 company which at one stage held a market value of well over £500m. The company, which specialises in social housing, is appointing administrators, as it tried and failed to secure funding for its £220m debts. Trading in Connaught's shares has now been suspended.
Why this should worry people is that this is (or was) a major private company which employed up to 10,000 people and previously made a good living from the public sector. Why we should worry even more is the fact that the Con Dem's are preparing the hack the hell out of public sector spending which could have a significant impact on numerous private companies, large and small that trade with and within the public sector.
Monday, 6 September 2010
He goes on (and on) about the loss of the pubs and village halls that were once the heart of rural communities. His solution to the well recognised problem is that people who use local services take control of them. This is not due to any great Tory commitment to rural life, but, more down to a pressing need to once again flag up David ("Call me Dave") Cameron's flagship policy - 'The Big Society' which has been lacking of late in the media (nationally and locally).
Cameron's 'Big Society' is a nice idea, but, with present financial circumstances it may end up being consigned quietly to the poltical dustbin. One thing it does anticipate, is a future trend of Government at all levels simply being there and providing next to nothing or at little as long as it costs the least (and claiming it's expenses for the privilege).
This sudden Conservative concern about society and community is all pretty ironic especially when you consider that Mr's Thatcher a Conservative (and Blairite / Brownite) icon once said that there was no such thing as society. No doubt that provided the inspiration for Mr Ramsay, as the following extracts from the Assembly records of claims would seem to suggest that he might well have been inspired by the spirit of self interest rather than anything else:
07-Apr-08 Nick Ramsay - Second Home Electrical Goods £977.95
(Sony LCD TV £549.99 Sony Surround Sound £159.98 Product Support for Surround Sound £59.00 Product Support for LCD TV £169.00 Logik 4m Aerial Cable £9.99 Scart £29.99)
Expenses aside the new bottom line is when you have ineffective and inert Government, then if you want a civic or fair society or merely want to reopen an old railway station, save a village pub, or community centre, a local primary school (Govilon and Llanover - to name but two), a cattle market (Abergavenny) or perhaps even a magistrates court (Abergavenny and Chepstow) then it will be up to us to make Government act on our behalf (whether it wants to or not) and find the money.
Unless of course said citizens find themselves in opposition to something that Government (central or local) wants to happen in which case then they will find themselves fighting against the full weight of the machinery of Government (at all levels) and all the inbuilt bias's and intricacies of the planning system. This is not in essence the Big Society that Cameron droned on about long before the election, this is people making Government at all levels pull its collective finger out and do what they want for their communities.
Roll on the day when Government's are afraid of their people, rather than the people being afraid of their Government. And that after all is the stuff of a collective New Labour and Conservative nightmare and the beginnings of a real Big Society.
Friday, 3 September 2010
My second and final week on the dig at on the Priory Field in Caerleon, within the walls of the Legionary Fortress, is now drawing to a close. It's been hard, hot and pretty exhausting but very interesting work as well as being fun.
Final excavations are taking place this year, and will last up until mid September, involving staff and students from University College London (UCL) and Cardiff University and volunteers.
The dig is open to the public and there are guided tours of the excavation site, at 11am and 2.30pm daily, except for Monday's. You can keep up to date with progress via the excavation blog.