Monday, 31 January 2011


Guillermo Farinas
The struggle for freedom and democracy takes many forms, whether through acts of individual courage, as in totalitarian dictatorships like Communist Cuba, where Police in Cuba have again released leading dissident Guillermo Farinas after his third arrest in 48 hours. His latest arrest had come with around 10 other dissidents while laying flowers at a monument to Cuba's independence leader Jose Marti.

The BBC says that he was freed after being taken to hospital, complaining of chest pains. Guillermo Farinas gained international attention in 2010 when he came close to death after staging a 134-day hunger strike and was fed intravenously. He started his 23rd hunger strike in February 2010 in protest at the death of fellow dissident and hunger striker Orlando Zapata. This protest in July, when Cuban President Raul Castro authorised the release of 52 of the island's most prominent prisoners of conscience. The EU awarded him its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last December, although he was prevented from leaving Cuba to collect the award.

Sometimes, freedom, democracy and liberty can be affirmed at the ballot box, as is the case in South Sudan Preliminary results show that some 99% of South Sudanese have voted to secede from the north, according to the first complete results of the region's independence referendum. Some 99.57 percent of those polled voted for independence, according to the referendum commission. Early counting had put the outcome of the ballot beyond doubt, indicating Southern Sudan had secured a mandate to become the world's newest nation. The poll was agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of war. The final results from the 9th-15th January vote, which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will accept, are expected early next month. If the result is confirmed, the new country is set to formally declare its independence on 9th July.

And sometimes, as in Tunis people have to stand up and be counted, when it really matters as they collectively brought an end 30 years of tyranny, corruption and wasted opportunities. Hopefully, the Egyptian people we be equally as successful as the Tunisian people were last month.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


The one lesson that we should have learned by now is that we cannot rely on any Westminster Government to deliver for Wales. Let's electrify the Valley lines and the Ebbw Vale line (initially) into Cardiff by using some of the National Assembly's 0.78 billion transport budget. The Con Dem Westminster Government's has failed to stump up the cash for the electrification of the rail line between Swansea (originally only to Bristol) and London Paddington, a project that the last New Labour Government only considered in the last two years of Government (on occasion I do wonder what New Labour were doing in the previous eleven years at times), is disappointing. While we are at it, 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.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


News that Gwent Police are to face cuts of more than £24 million over the next four years is not good news. this is a direct consequence of the Con Dem Westminster government's recent comprehensive spending review, which as everyone knows has seriously slashed public spending across the board. Gwent Police are now going to be engaged in a prolonged bout of belt tightening as the force comes to terms with seriously reduced funding.

The South Wales Argus (27.01.2011), notes that Gwent Police will announce its budget plans on the 9th February, when some of the detail as to how the force will cut some £3 million in 2011/12 on top of potential savings of £7.6 million made in 2010/11. The budget for 2010/11 was set at £121.616 million. The Argus also notes that the outgoing Chief Constable Mick Giannasi stated that officer numbers would not be cut during this financial year. Gwent Police Authority members were told that while the official figure is £22 million, the force has to allow ten percent cushion for any alterations in costs so in reality the figure is £24.6 million.

Retention of police Officers, on and off the beat, and civilian support staff should be the bottom line. Once you go down the line of cutting civilian support staff, which some may consider an easier and slightly more acceptable situation than reducing police numbers, there will be consequences. A reduction in civilian support staff numbers will inevitably lead to a reduction in the availability of operational police officers, which will have consequences for all of us.

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

Now there is absolutely no reason why we cannot be far more creative when it comes to how are Communities are policed. We certainly need a more flexible approach to shift patterns to tackle those periods of the day when higher levels of criminal offences take place and need to actually respond to local communities real concerns rather than the Ministry of Justice's (formerly the Home Office) perceived priorities and targets.

We need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when it comes to basing Policing strategies on core or periphery because the end result is that some of our our communities will lose out when it comes to access to Police services and resources. If we want to curb crime in Wales, then it makes sense for the control of Policing as well as Justice and Prisons within Wales to be fully devolved to the National Assembly, much of this already happens in Scotland, are we less capable than the Scots or less of a nation than Scotland? - I think not!

Friday, 28 January 2011


Everybody is getting hit hard by the high fuel prices, if the Prime Minister breaks his promises on introducing a fuel duty stabiliser then the poorest in society suffering more than the rest of us. The Conservative Party promised to look into a "fair fuel stabiliser" in their election manifesto, in early January, David Cameron said he was considering ways to help cash-strapped motorists. More recently Cameron has played down the possibility of a "fair fuel stabiliser" to limit fuel duty rises. The fact that UK Government benefits to the tune of 600 million a week in fuel duty may be a contributory factor in relation to the PM’s indecision, just as it was with former New Labour PM, Gordon Brown, perhaps Mr Cameron should declare an interest?

There is an urgent need to see measures put in place to stabilise prices before they rocket even higher. Implementing a Fuel Duty Regulator would at least bring duty down when oil prices go up – and cap prices at the petrol pump. I think that there is little chance that Cameron will keep to his word or his election pledge on introducing a fuel duty stabiliser, as this UK Coalition Government seems to have shed any real principles as regularly as the snow melts in warmer weather.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says the UK now has the second highest diesel price in Europe - something which it says is causing great difficulties for hauliers and other businesses dependent on road transport. They point out that in Europe, the total price is split about 50/50 between the cost of the fuel itself and tax, yet, in the UK, the average product price is 38% of the total, with the remaining 62% coming from tax. Fuel duty already costs 58.95p for every litre. Average prices at the pump are now around 127p per litre and the Retail Motor Industry Federation has written to the Chancellor asking him to scrap the planned fuel duty increase, due in April.

Prices reached $147 a barrel before the recession in 2008 but are currently about $100 a barrel. The average price of petrol is rising at the highest rate for 10 years. The average cost of a litre of unleaded petrol has gone up by 6.13p since mid-December to a record 128.27p (£5.83 a gallon). The price of diesel is even higher and in some rural areas the cost of fuel is more than 20p a litre above the average figure. There are further increases in duty planned for April as well as expected rises in the price of oil. The 4th January VAT hike to 20% and a simultaneous rise in fuel duty, did little to help matters, as motorists saw 3.5p added to the cost of a litre.

Plaid Cymru has long favoured a new system of regulating tax on fuel in order to mitigate the effects of high prices at the pumps, and for a fuel duty regulator to cap the price of petrol at the pump when it rises too quickly. Wholesale oil prices will inevitably rise over the next few years as the world economy re-builds itself in the face of an increasing demand for oil and all of us will pay for higher fuel prices directly or indirectly. What's needed is an increase in sustained investment in renewable energy sources which would boost our economy without damaging the planet. It is scandalous that Wales was left out of recent pilot programmes for electric cars, but recent experience tells that for many Westminster Governments (Conservative or New Labour) Wales is so often out of sight and out of mind.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


The official launch of the "Monmouthshire says Yes" campaign will be held tomorrow (Thursday) night, 27 January, at 7.30 pm in Trinity Church, Baker Street, Abergavenny. The key speakers will be Nick Ramsay, Conservative AM for Monmouth, and Huw Edwards, former Labour MP for Monmouth. Sadly I won't be there to support the launch as I will be at another meeting (Friends of the Earth) in Newport, we live in very interesting if very changed (for the better) times here in the South East.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


This was not a headline I would have expected to be in the Daily telegraph:

PFI: £70m bill for schools that had to close

The Daily Telegraph has rather belatedly discovered that PFI (in England) costs a fortune and brings little medium of long term benefits to users who continue to pay through the nose for maintenance. What seems to have wound up the Daily Telegraph is the fact that at the very least three PFI schools which have been closed due to falling pupil numbers are still being paid for by education authorities (in England) who continue to pay the contractors millions of pounds each year for them until 2035. Additionally, and this must come as something of a shock to the Daily Telegraph, that dozens of other PFI schools which have been built and operated by the private sector, which rented back to the taxpayer regularly face high costs and “incredibly frustrating” restrictions which “hamstring” how they are able to use their school buildings.

Oddly enough the House of Commons’ Committee on Public Accounts which has backed Plaid Cymru’s stance on Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) on housing and hospitals. PFI was developed by the last New Labour government which involves private companies developing projects and paid back by the government over a long contract. Plaid has consistently criticised PFI projects for being costly to the taxpayer and poor in delivery. Right from the start Plaid said that Private Finance Initiatives were a New Labour trick which would eventually cost the taxpayer much more than if they were government-funded upfront. The Public Accounts Committee report has slammed PFI housing projects which have cost considerably more than originally planned and have been, on average, two and a half years late, and says that poor administration, rising costs and the well-known cunning of the financial services sector mean that taxpayers have not benefited from using this method of funding.

It's worth noting that the Plaid-driven One Wales Government confirmed back in 2007 that it would end PFI in the Welsh NHS as part of our goals of keeping the markets out of the health service. Previous reports have shown that PFI has failed when used in the defence sector and this Public Accounts Committee report says that there have been serious problems using it for building housing and hospitals in the NHS. Yet, despite this the UK Government persists in continuing blindly down this road, it's time to draw a line, its time to reconsider the best and most appropriate ways of funding new projects, especially as the Westminster Government is hell-bent on slashing the capital spending which was their core funding.

Further Telegraph revelations have revealed that existing PFI agreements, taxpayers are having to pay more than £200 billion for schools, hospitals and other projects whose capital value was little more than £50 billion. The is the price we are all having to pay (and pay again) for Blair and Brown's premierships – one questions I would like answered is where exactly was the Daily Telegraph when the rush to PFI was under-way? perhaps now that the Daily Telegraph has woken up to the expensive mess that excessive use of PFI has created then perhaps the Conservative part of the Con Dem Government will stop using PFI - perhaps not as it is rather popular with their friends in the City?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Network Rail is looking at restoring services on the disused Amlwch branch line (on Anglesey) that closed to passenger traffic more than 35 years ago. The old line between Llangefni and Gaerwen shut in 1964 but remained in use for chemical freight until the early 1990s. The four-and-a-half miles (7.2km) of track will be subject to a feasibility study will see engineers looking at 31 bridge and culverts, as well as earthworks on the route. They will also examine the feasibility of refurbishing the Llangefni station building and its disused platform. This is good news - any chance that network Rail can have a look at the old line between Little Mill and Usk, with a view to similar feasibility study?

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Not a headline that the Downing Street Press Office or Tory Central Office will want to see! The loss of Andy Coulson as Downing Street's Director of Communications, may have more significance than people think. Coulson, an Essex boy (and proud of it) was born and brought up in Wickford, Essex, educated at the local state school, Beauchamps Comprehensive. A devoted Tottenham Hotspur fan - he began his career at the Basildon Evening Echo, before joining the Sun and rising rapidly through the ranks of News International) was one of the few contacts between the Conservative Cabinet and ordinary people. The bunker mentality that tends to pervade political parties (with like employing or selecting like) is a dangerous but understandable trend. Coulson, who was reasonably rooted in reality (well as much anyone who worked for the News of the World can be) may well missed, as one of the few tangible links with how ordinary people live, work and think is now broken. So show your appreciation for Andy Coulson. Leave him a message of a support on your voicemail!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Many of the people of Milton Keynes want their library, Milton Keynes Council says it cannot afford them, and is considering closing the library within its draft plans to save £26m in 2011/12. The Tories 'Big Society' will work if it does not cost Government anything - so when people took their maximum allowance of books from Stony Stratford library, Milton Keynes - clearing all 16,000 volumes from its shelves, as part of a protest about proposed Library closures, this is not the sort of Big Society that Cameron wants, because Government will have to pay for them.

One it was easy, once Blair was gone we thought  that 'Spin' was gone, sadly not. Once the Tories did not believe in society, if you wanted services you were a paying customer, not tax paying citizen, if you wanted culture you had to pay for it (some of them still think this!). Now after the David ('Call me Prime Minister!) Cameron's makeover the Tories now believe in something called the 'Big Society'. Sounds good, sounds simple, but, its more complicated than that. The essence of this is that Tories believe in people getting organised, having input in what goes, and working to benefit their communities - providing that it does not cost the state (at whatever level) does not have to pay for it.

Some of the  Tories don't really believe in the state doing anything, they claim to believe in less 'Big Government' - sounds good - but - under Thatcher and Major the Tories grew the Quango element of Government to a vast size, all New Labour did was grow it some more. The fact that the UK can not longer pay for many of them, thanks to the banking enhanced economic crisis, gives the Tories (and their Lib Dem little helpers) the opportunity to look radical, when they are not. The bottom line is that the Tory vision of the 'Big Society' is going to be selective and as far as they are concerned cost free - unfortunately things don't work that way very often.

Monday, 17 January 2011


I was away for a few days (in London), where from previous experience and observation any matters pertaining to Wales are understandably mostly out of sight and out of mind. In various after dinner conversations on Saturday night the issue of free prescriptions [in Wales, we have them, they don't in England], University Tuition fee costs [ours are (and will be) cheaper in Wales, theirs will be more expensive] and public services - here in Wales efforts are being made to protect them from the worst excesses of the Conservative driven Con Dem Government.

In England it appears alarmingly to be open season on the public services and some seriously deep, damaging and severe cuts are under-way, which will probably do some serious damage to the provision of public services in the NHS (in England) and in Education. The fate of the Forestry Commission (which was not sold off by Mrs Thatcher) is also going to be different with Forests in England may well end up as private land (sold of to the highest bidder, but, in Wales, that's not going to happen - a different path has been chosen.

This is just the start, over the next few years the differences between what goes on in Wales and what goes on in England are going to broaden, that's what devolution does. Ironically We may get more than a few envious glances being cast in the direction of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over the next few years.

The people of England will be the ones to suffer from the medium to long term consequences of decisions made by the Con Dem Government in relation to cutting public services and the new wave of potential privatisation of state agencies and services. Down the line the electoral prospects for the Con Dems may be pretty bleak, but, that will bring no comfort to those who have found their public services wrecked and flogged off on the cheap.

Friday, 14 January 2011


Around 80 south Wales political and business leaders have signed a petition calling for the electrification of the rail line from Swansea to London. The Great Western Partnership's letter aims to tell the UK transport minister Phillip Hammond that it would provide an essential economic lifeline. This is a worthy effort, but, I suspect that the Con Dem's are not going to listen any time soon, the Welsh Secretary is currently too busy fighting against a proposed railway project that cuts through her constituency, to be bothered with Wales, even if she remembers where she left it?

I think we would all be better off putting our efforts into encouraging the National Assembly Government to start electrifying the valley lines to Cardiff (as first step) - I mention this because Liverpool has had an electrified rail-link to London for some years,but, I do wonder how exactly this has benefited the city? Starting to electrify the valley lines (something that does not have to be done in one go) would bring lasting benefit to our valley communities and seriously improve our transport infrastructure. Railway wise we need to do something different that has lasting benefits for all our communities.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


News that Arriva Cross Country has promised to more than triple the number of trains serving Chepstow station (which serves S.E. Monmouthshire, the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean) from May 2011 is very good news indeed for increasingly hard pressed rail travellers and visitors to Chepstow (the gateway to the Wye Valley).

There is nothing more frustrating (or a more ludicrous situation to be in) than to be standing on a station platform at to endure having to watch a passenger train slow down to pass through the station and not stop. It's especially irritating when, when the train is going in the direction you want to travel. At least this promise should begin to fill some of the gaps in services too and from Chepstow and may attract more passengers.

Arriva’s promise of more stopping services goes some way to undoing the damage that has been done to rail services at Chepstow over the last few years with the appointment of each new train operating company. As of May, ten trains extra a day will stop at Chepstow on each direction of the Cardiff to Nottingham route Mondays to Saturdays.

At the moment, only two trains a day stop there on the northbound service and three a day on the southbound return service. This is a step in the right direction and is due in part to the hard work of the Better Trains 4 Chepstow campaign group, who have been working hard for some years to improve facilities and services for Chepstow.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


A growing number of people (me included) are worried about secure energy supplies, but not new Labour or the Con Dems who are quite happy to leave energy planning and energy supply to the whims of the 'free market'. We should also spare a thought for 'food security'.

Food security is nothing new, back in 1996, the World Food Summit defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledge that the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences.

All very fine and day you may say, but, what does that have to do with us? Well, quite a lot actually, the especially as the UK produces 73% of 'indigenous-type foods’ (home grown to you and me), and is about 60% self-sufficient when exports and local consumption are set against production. It's also worth noting that UK consumers spend an average of £420 per household on food each year that they then throw away, or 4.1M tonnes of food nationally.

Every day we bin 4.4M apples, 5.1M potatoes, 2.8M tomatoes and 1.6M bananas. 2009 Wrap data suggests £12Bn worth is binned every year in the UK, or around £680 for the average family when drinks and liquid food is included. In Wales at least, as noted by Leanne Wood Plaid AM, South Wales Central, serious efforts are being made to cut waste (if we had the proper powers then we could make an even better job of it).

The rise in global food prices will have an impact on the cost of living and the prices we pay for our food. The cost of Global food prices quietly rose to a new high in December last year, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Its Food Price Index went above the previous record of 2008 that saw prices spark riots in several countries.

Soaring sugar, cereal and oil prices had driven the rise, the report said. The index (produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) measures monthly price changes for a food basket composed of dairy, meat and sugar, cereals and oilseeds, averaged 214.7 points last month, up from 206 points in November and also noted that prices had risen for six consecutive months.

At the end of the day, rising food prices will bring little or scant benefit to our own or more distant food producers because often they are being short changed by the Supermarkets (and some of their suppliers). They need a fair deal and so do we, that's something to ponder on when confronted by the increased cost of our basic foodstuffs.

Saturday, 8 January 2011


I should be in Aberystwyth but instead am still trying to fight of 'man flu' not very successfully (such is life) what with the winter we have been having (so far) its not really a surprise. Despite the worst of the weather the Posties in Newport were hard at it, despite the weather (and the thick frozen fallen snow).

Our postal services workers more than went the extra mile over the Christmas and the New Year to make sure presents and cards were delivered (I had double postal deliveries on more than a few days). Despite the terrible weather and the record level of mail sent, their huge effort was a reminder of the importance of a public post service. it's worth noting that when many of the big on-line retailers stopped delivering, the Royal Mail carried on.

Makes you wonder that would happen if the Mail was privatised I wonder? We cannot and should not simply view the Royal Mail as yet another asset to be sold off cheaply - no doubt making a few a fat windfall in the process - as happened with many of the other utilities that were sold off cheaply by the Tories in the 1980's and the 1990's to the lasting benefit of their chums in the City.

The Post Office is an important (if not vital) national institution that provides a massive social function on which many of our citizens and small business depend. We must oppose any Con Dem plans to sell off the Royal Mail. The Tories and their Lib Dem little helpers must step back from these plans and commit to keeping the postal service public in 2011.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


An interesting well attended 'Yes for Wales' launch meeting in Newport last night, to kick-off the campaign for a 'Yes' vote in Newport was held in the YMCA Conference Centre in Pill (Pillgwenlly) Newport West.

Speakers on the night included two National Assembly Ministers Plaid Jocelyn Davies AM and Labour John Griffiths AM, Liberal Democrat peer Lord German, Conservative AM Nick Ramsey not to mention Paul Flynn MP for Newport West).

Simultaneous meetings were held in Aberdare, Bangor, and Wrexham, with Swansea launching next week. I think that the next 54 days are going to be interesting as well as exhausting.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


The murder of the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer in Pakistan has robbed the country of one of those rare tireless and courageous voices, who championed women's rights and supported minorities. He made headlines recently by appealing for the pardon of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The BBC Urdu Service asked him about the about the fatwas, or religious decrees, issued against him in Pakistan, he criticised the "illiterate" clerics responsible, saying: "They issued fatwas against Benazir [Bhutto] and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto [her father, an executed former president], and even the founder of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. I do not care about them."

The BBC noted that friends of the governor say he knew he was risking his life by speaking out. Perhaps the last word should go to the former Governor himself who twittered (on the 31st December 2010) that: "I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing." Sadly he has paid the ultimate price for being a moderate voice in an increasingly extremist state.

Monday, 3 January 2011


So much for encouraging people to use the train, the Con Dem Government (much like its predecessor New Labour) has looked the other way as rail fares in Wales go up by an average of 6.2 percent. The rail operating companies have said that price rises will pay for newer trains - don't hold your breath! It's worth asking just how much will be left over from any monies secured for investment in our railways after the shareholders dividend (and the Government) have been paid off? No wonder, that despite the rise in petrol or diesel prices which might be expected to encourage people to find other means of getting to and from work, amongst other things that rail passengers (sorry customers) are somewhat disillusioned by the rail franchise holders latest spin.

How much longer are we going to tolerate a shoddy minimalist unconnected service? We need a single rail franchise that directly answers to and works for Wales, not servicing company shareholder dividends and ultimately the Department of Transport who's interest in Wales could be described as peripheral at best. We need to prioritise investment in our railways and provide a decent affordable and reliable service for the passengers. We need a not for profit railway company that serves Wales and we need to break up the comfy cosy financial relationship that exists between the Westminster establishment and the franchise holders whether they railway or power companies.