Thursday, 31 March 2011

Eman al-Obedi

The Libyan authorities must thoroughly investigate the case of a woman who said she had been raped by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, Amnesty International said today.

“Eman al-Obeidi’s allegations are stomach-churning. The Libyan authorities must immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation and bring those responsible to justice if the allegations are well-founded,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director 

“It is extremely disturbing that Eman al-Obeidi was forcibly dragged away by Libyan security officials when she tried to speak to journalists. The authorities must say where she is now and guarantee her safety and well-being. If she is being detained, she should be released immediately."

"The Libyan authorities have a long record of silencing those who dare speak out against human rights violations. It is all the more worrying that they did not hesitate to do this, using heavy-handed methods, despite the presence of the international media."

Eman al-Obedi was detained on Saturday after bursting into a Tripoli hotel where international journalists had gathered and saying she had been raped.

(Source: Amnesty International)


Sign the international petition here:

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


The questionable savings that may be made by the closure of local police stations in Gwent can only ever be short term and are a symptom of a bigger problem. Policing, like everything else is driven by funding - this is the reality of modern policing, cash strapped Gwent Police needs additional funding and an increase in the number of serving officers.

Closing local police stations (Castleton, Duffyrn, Llanhilleth, Llanmartin and Rassau have been named by The South Wales Argus as to being at risk) might save some pounds but will not help our Police Officers who 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.

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 serious consequences. The retention of police Officers (on and off the beat) and civilian support staff should be the bottom line. 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.

Gwent Police are up against it what with possible cuts of more than £24 million over the next four years. 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 going to be busy with a serious bout of belt tightening as the force comes to terms with seriously reduced funding.

A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) sets out for the first time a definition of what constitutes front-line policing, amid a growing political debate about how chief constables should make cuts. HMIC's definition says that front-line policing is those who are "in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law".

The report found that 68% of all police force staff in England and Wales were in such roles, but not all were visible. The HMIC estimates that 61% of police officers and community support officers work in visible front-line positions and that 12% of them are available at any given time.

There may be a shortage of money, although as has been noted the UK Government was pretty quick to find the reserves to bail out the banks (bonuses and all) and can always seem to find the money to fund in this case the UN approved (and therefore legal) military action in Libya (UN approved and legal - that makes a pleasant change from the days of Blair).

Now there is absolutely no reason why we cannot be far more creative when it comes to how are Communities are policed. Lets certainly look at 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 certainly 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. One key thing to remember is that if you are going to spend public money then make sure that you work it hard.

Another thing to remember here is accountability, those who spend public money need to be properly accountable to the public. Mr's Thatcher severely weakened the democratic element in the old Police Authorities, following the proposed Tory model of elected Police Chief is not really an option.

So if we want to solve, curb or reduce 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 Welsh Government, are we less capable than the people of Northern Ireland, or the Scots or less of a nation than Scotland?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


We need a new fresh approach to supporting small town and rural businesses, which are the lifeblood of our small towns and the economy across much of rural and non rural Wales. Many people now recognize that economic and social problems are increasing; what was in effect a historical central Government and local Government indifference to local economies and local economic needs cannot be allowed to continue as it has a damaging impact on our communities.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has noted that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and that of this continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that will hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace. Over recent years in the small and not so small towns across Wales, the once particularly rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under increasing pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our nation's high streets.”

A few years ago The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England report ‘Rural Roulette’, which focuses on the area around the small town of Saxmundan (in Suffolk) revealed that 81 shops surveyed employed 548 people, with 317 employees working part-time. They discovered that local small businesses were very flexible and able to fit in odd hours, at odd times for their staff and that many employees travelled short distances to their place of work and the majority of employees were women.

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England noted the following:
  • There was a loss of choice as it becomes harder to buy local foods. 64% of the local shops in Fakenham, Norfolk, and 75% of those in Warminster, Wiltshire, closed when new superstores were built in those towns. Most supermarkets sell very little locally sourced produce, with only 1-2% of their turnover coming from local foods, so, when local shops close, the outlet for local produce disappears with them.
  • There was a loss of jobs as local businesses close. Supermarket domination of the retail trade puts the local food infrastructure at risk threatening the viability of local abattoirs, wholesalers and small farms and the associated jobs. A study by the National Retail Planning Forum in 1998 of 93 new superstores found that each one resulted in a net loss of 270 local jobs.
  • There was a loss of character, as once distinctive lively town centre's become 'clone towns'. Local shops and services depend on each other for survival. As independent shops close, once vibrant market towns can become retail deserts (or ghost towns). Where shops are taken over by national chains, creeping homogenisation creates clone towns.
  • There was a loss of landscape when traditional farming practices are discontinued. River valley meadows, marshes, heaths and pastures need to be grazed by livestock to maintain their appearance and wildlife, but the supply of meat from such animals, often traditional breeds, is often considered too small and intermittent to suit supermarket specifications.

Now this is interesting and in truth pretty obvious if you think about it. The Plaid driven One Wales Government has recognised that an economically active local network of food producers, wholesalers and local retailers help to sustain many other jobs within the local economy. Local businesses provide work for trade’s people such as electricians, builders and plumbers – whereas national chains tend to employ people from outside of the area for renovation and repair work. There other beneficial knock on effects with local employment in banking, accountancy, legal advice, insurance, etc – all of which underpin the viability of our small towns and our communities.

We need to develop more sustained long-term initiatives that are designed to promote new and existing businesses in our small towns, in our communities and rural areas. Our often hard-pressed existing small businesses, local retailers and suppliers provide much-needed jobs for local people and provide a linked network of businesses that use each others services and feed the local economy. Small shops and local retailers provide a significant social network for many local people and passers by and add to the long-term viability and vitality of our communities.

I believe that Plaid in Government will make a real difference to the network of inter connected local economies across the whole of Wales by helping our small local businesses to be economically active and to make a real contribution to the local economy. Plaid can do this by giving them a helping hand and a level playing field to ensure that they are still around and economically active and creating jobs and economic opportunities in the heart of our communities giving our communities a prosperous and sustainable economic future.

Monday, 28 March 2011


Despite the fact that the Cuban government is still in a state of denial when it comes to whether or not they actually hold political prisoners and basically considers dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the US in order to destabilise the government. Despite this the Cuban Communist government has finally freed the last two political prisoners detained since a major crackdown on opposition activists in 2003. Felix Navarro, 57, was a teacher and political activist; 40-year-old Jose Ferrer a fisherman and member of one of the opposition movements. They were both sentenced to 25-year jail terms and considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

In all some 75 leading intellectuals, opposition figures and activists were detained during what became known as Cuba's "Black Spring". The Communist Dictatorship was exposed to widespread international condemnation at the mass arrests and long prison terms, with even the European Union suspending all its co-operation programmes. Some of them were later released on health grounds. However, it was not until last July that there was a breakthrough when a deal was brokered by the Roman Catholic Church in which Cuba's President Raul Castro agreed to free the remaining 52. The majority had left with their extended families for Spain within a few months. This process came to a halt when a dozen of the dissidents refused to leave and go into exile, they demanded that they be allowed to return to their homes in Cuba.

The Cuban government anxious to get out of the public eye has gone well beyond its original pledge and allowed at least 60 other prisoners to go to Spain. Another eleven more are due to leave Cuba shortly, including the last man listed as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. It was the death in prison in 2010 last year of the dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo that out Cuba back into the international Human Rights spotlight. The issue remained in the headlines after another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, also began his own prolonged hunger strike. Earlier this month the remaining Ladies in White and some of the released prisoners met at the house of one of the organisers intending to hold a short march. They were besieged by several hundred pro-government supporters chanting abuse and forcing them to stay indoors.

The EU is due to consider in the coming months whether to fully normalise relations with Cuba. Cuba remains a one party state and despite the release of dissidents, the authorities are continuing to harass opposition groups even though they appear to have little impact amongst ordinary Cubans. In relation to curbing dissent in line of what's been going on across the Arab world, I wonder how long it will be before access to the Internet is curbed in Cuba. Oddly enough at the moment Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet access and mobile phone ownership in the Americas, but social media, may well be slowly starting to have an impact.

Sunday, 27 March 2011


Plaid's spring conference was interesting, with a real air of ambition and aspiration for this nation, as opposed to party political self interest. I caught a number of key-note speakers including Nerys Evans, Helen Mary Jones, Leanne Wood and Ieuan Wyn Jones, but, it was Ron Davies, Plaid's Caerphilly Assembly candidate who, in my opinion hit the nail on the head, when he said:

"The limits to our ambitions should only be set by the people of Wales. This process of building our democracy and a better Wales which goes with it should both challenge us and reassure us. We in Plaid speak for an increasing majority who want a greater degree of self government. After all, we as a party have done so much to get us where we are today."

He rightly laid into Shadow Secretary of State Peter Hain.

"It was so kind and generous of Peter Hain to remind us right at the start of the campaign that we wouldn't be having a referendum at all if it were not for Plaid.

"I am not entirely convinced his intervention was intended to foster inter-party unity in the driver for a 'Yes' vote. In fact, I am not all convinced.

"If ever there was a case of getting your retaliation in first that was one. As far as the Labour Party is concerned when it is a choice between party interest or national interest there is only one winner.

"Peter Hain knew full well how de-stabilising his comments could have been but the calculation was 'so what, there's a party game to be played'. Ill-judged and mistimed maybe, but you were right, Peter. Without Plaid there would have been no referendum on 3rd March."

The former Welsh Secretary said that Labour had failed to stand up for Wales during its years in office.

"Pity they didn't stand up for Wales for the last 10 years and help rebuild our economy or get fair funding for public services. They couldn't even stand up to their own backbenchers and get us a proper Parliament. Now Labour is adrift. Values abandoned, no direction, no strategy, no plan. They won't even  acknowledge how deep our economic and social crisis is. Just spin and excuses."

Leanne Wood AM, was also spot on when she said that its time for Wales to control its own resources. One of the key themes of this weekend's Plaid Cymru conference was the economy. Our economy is in a poor state and not getting better despite billions of euro-cash being poured in.

We cannot allow or afford for the Welsh economy to continue to decline over the next five - this is not an acceptable option. We need fresh ideas and need to make best use of the new legislative powers (such as they are) to make sure that the next National Assembly punches well above its weight and begins to really deliver for all parts of Wales following the Welsh Election on May 5th.

Friday, 25 March 2011


Torfaen Friends of the Earth is holding two public meetings for residents to have their say over plans for a controversial resident development in Sebastopol. Torfaen council initially gave approval for the scheme on land to the west of Cwmbran Drive, South Sebastopol, in 2005, but the developers did not complete a legal agreement within the specified time and so the scheme did not go ahead

A development consortium, led by Asbri Planning Ltd, is submitting 'refreshed' plans for the site, which were displayed at public exhibitions in November. Torfaen Friends of the Earth is holding two further public exhibitions next week for people to have their say on the plans. The plans involve 1,200 house on the site, including a village centre adjacent to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, play areas and a formal sports fields.

Original proposals to build the large housing estate on the last remaining green land between Pontypool and Cwmbran provoked significant outcry when they were originally unveiled in the mid 1990s. Pressure group “Fight the Plan” was formed in 1996 with the aim of stopping the development.

Campaigners who have raised serious concerns over environmental impact of the development, fought successfully to delay it for nine years, but the group lost a a judicial review in 2005. The public exhibitions will take place at West Pontnewydd Community Hall, off Maendy Way, Cwmbran on March 28, and St Oswald's Church, Wern Road, Sebastopol on March 29. Both run from 7pm until 9pm.

We need to take the long view and to create Welsh Green belt land with the legal and planning protections then, we might go some way to calming things down when it comes to development planning. This would also enable us to introduce a more long term element into the process by which our elected officials (and council officers) plan and view development and redevelopment within and around our urban and not so urban communities. This is something that could be accomplished by creating Welsh Green belt land, as part of the process we also need an urgent and open debate into the planning process in Wales - something that has been long overdue.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


No matter how they would like to spin it the Con Dem's have made a very basic and bad decision budget wise, they should have concentrated on growth rather than cuts in their first Budget last year. This publicly announced (in not trumpeted) “austerity” budget rather than a “growth” budget is simply bad economics.

The UK coalition has got it's financial policy fundamentally back to front and cuts in capital investment, not to mention the snatching £385 million away from the Welsh Government's funds, has left Wales in a weak position especially when it comes to securing economic recovery.

Here in Wales, things could be quite different, Plaid have already launched their proposal for a “Build for Wales” investment vehicle which would ensure capital investment in new schools, new hospitals and new roads while creating up to 50,000 jobs here in Wales.

Jonathan Edwards MP
Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesman, Jonathan Edwards MP, said:

“The Office for Budget Responsibility is set to lower growth expectations in the UK in this Budget, while figures from the Office of National Statistics show higher than expected UK government borrowing.

“This is the scenario we set out a year ago - that cutting too much and too early would lead to the situation where the tax-take falls, and more people are out of work and claiming benefits after losing their jobs.

“The UK Government should have pushed for growth in the economy first and secured the recovery, before making massive cuts to public sector jobs and investment.

“Quite simply, they got it the wrong way around.

“Capital investment, in new schools, new hospitals and new roads, is key to making our economy work in Wales, by creating jobs for our construction industry and developing vital infrastructure.

“On top of that, the Treasury has mugged Wales by taking back £385m End Year Flexibility that we were keeping to use for just this purpose.

“Clearly Plaid is the only party interested in a better future and a credible economic plan for Wales. Plaid’s Build for Wales investment vehicle, for example would allow us to raise money to counter the cuts and to create up to 50,000 jobs.”

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


Small stones can start large avalanches, opposition to Muammar Gaddafi and his murderous repressive regime is not new, it has a long history both inside and outside of Libya. Not that former PM Tony Blair and other Western Leaders who were busy snuggling up the repressive leader and his spawn would have noticed, but courageous Libyans defying the repressive Gaddafi regime took to the streets not a month ago, but more than two years ago. They risked torture and death sentences and their protest largely passed unnoticed by most of the world, a small group of families began to hold weekly demonstrations in Benghazi, the city that has become the epicenter of the uprising that swept across Libya.

In less than three months Gaddafi has gone from being the West's best mate to billy no mates. The UN Security Council has twice in three weeks done the right thing, initially by referring Libya to the International Criminal Court, then, by authorizing military force to protect civilians from Muammar al-Qaddafi's crazed wrath. Qaddafi is in many ways the perfect stage villain complete with an iffy dress sense, madness and way over-the-top threats to "show no mercy" to the people of Benghazi, along with his regional meddling and megalomaniac ideas, left him few friends or defenders.

Now What's even more amazing aside from the fact that China and Russia decided not to vote or even to abstain in the UN, is the fact that the Arab League (which has long promised much and delivered little for the Arab peoples) has also played an key role by abandoning its usual position of opposition to Security Council action against some of it's more repressive members. Previously the league has watched silently as Sudan's Omar al-Bashir committed crimes against humanity in Darfur, somewhat less recently, Saddam Hussein (Iraq) massacred Shia and Kurds, and Syria's Hafez al-Asad destroyed the town of Hama.

Now the question are the winds of change wafting through the Middle East and North Africa or is the ground literally crumbling beneath the feet of a whole host of iffy and repressive regimes - with popular dissent and demonstrations in Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Bharain - where next people may well wonder? What's embarrassing for Western leaders in particular is that they now find that many of the despots they have feted because they brought 'security and stability' to the region (and also lucratively armed to the teeth) are now busy repressing their own people in what appears to be a series of increasingly bloody and brutal (and hopefully futile) attempts to stay in power.

Gaddafi and friend (AFP / Getty)
Western leaders are 'discovering' that 'their boys' are a pretty grim and repressive bunch of (hopefully) no hopers. I suppose that we should all be grateful in that at least we have been spared the embarrassing suggestion that they did not no what they were like or what they were doing. Certainly the former New Labour Government and no doubt the Con Dem's spent plenty of time being nice to Gaddafi regime (the sight of Peter Hain (Labour MP for Neath) defending a long line of arms sales to Libya recently on BBC Question time comes to mind). Now the people are taking to the streets throughout the region, risking their lives for freedom, democracy and human rights against autocratic leaders that have long denied them for so long.

Here's hoping what we are seeing is the wind of change and here's hoping that Gaddafi (and his ilk) and the rest of the repressive bunch end up in Court and after due process spend a seriously long time in goal answering for their crimes. When Saddam went far too much was swept under the carpet (the Kurds amongst many others never did get their day in court) and we never did find out which Western Governments (and the rest) and which companies had been quietly breaking the sanctions because after all he was 'our boy'.

And while we are at it lets have a long hard look at just who's been profitably tooling up the forces of repression around the globe and shine some light on the UK's foreign policy and exactly what decisions have been and are being made on our name? Now this wave of revolution has been fuelled by the courage of ordinary people who are prepared to stand up and be counted, aided and abetted by Facebook - the blocking of which by repressive regimes is a key sign of unrest and dissent- incidentally I wonder if Facebook is blocked in Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbarbwe and Iran all of whom have expressed their support for Gaddafi?

Monday, 21 March 2011


News that Ofgem (the energy regulator) has told energy firms they must offer simpler tariffs to help consumers compare prices is to be welcomed. Ofgem has also said that the "big six" suppliers should also face more competition, saying that it would force these firms to auction off up to a fifth of the electricity they generate, making room for new companies. Not to mention that Energy firms could be referred to the Competition Commission if they do not comply with the new system.

Now, of course, Ofgem launched a review of the energy market after claims were made that suppliers were making excessive profits. Certainly British Gas (earlier in the year) said operating profits had risen by 24% in 2010 to £742m. Back in November, Ofgem said that energy supplier's net profit margin per typical customer rose from £65 in September to £90 in November, which was a 38% rise. Interestingly enough, Ofgem also said that it had found evidence that the "big six" energy firms "have adjusted prices in response to rising costs more quickly than they reduced them when costs fell".

Factor in the possibility that Scottish Power, may face an investigation into its pricing regime and that this investigation is in addition to the ongoing Ofgem investigation into how British Gas, EDF Energy and Npower handle consumers' complaints. Not to mention that Ofgem is also still continuing to investigate allegations of misselling by EDF Energy, Npower, Scottish Power, and Scottish and Southern Energy and you may well draw the conclusion that the so called 'free market' in energy supply is joke that deliverers little save for fat profits for members of a self serving cosy energy cartel.

The problem is that any Ofgem investigation into questionable practices undertaken by the energy companies will not come close to the Conservative pre-election promise of a proper enquiry into the energy industry. Now oddly enough that pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry (which has been repeatedly criticised with accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas) was quietly dropped by the Com Dem Coalition Government in August 2010, when no doubt when they hoped no one would notice.

Back in October 2009, the then Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark has said that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms will be referred to the Competition Commission by an incoming Conservative Government. He also said that there was an unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills - noting that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year. An 'independent' investigation in the Energy companies refusal to pass on reductions in wholesale energy prices to customers was also mooted along with an overhaul the energy sector billing structure and charges.

Now don't get me wrong, this all sounded great, but, wasn't it a Conservative Government that was responsible for starting the whole sorry mess in the first place by privatising the energy market in the first place, throwing any rational energy pricing structure upon the whims of the alleged 'free market' by allowing the newly privatised energy companies to price gouge customers in the first place? So you may ask, why did it never happen? Well that was one reason may well be that the current shambles helps to feed the fat wallets of Tory chums in the City and the exchequer.

Its also worth noting the energy companies are busy gouge mining profits from their domestic customers. Back in February is was British Gas who's operating profits rose 24% in 2010 to £742m.This news, welcome to shareholders if no one else, two months after the UK utility announced a 7% rise in domestic energy bills, which it blamed on rising wholesale prices.

British Gas also said it had increased its number of customers by 267,000 during the year to 16 million. This helped parent company Centrica to achieve pre-tax profits of £2.8bn, with operating profits up 29% to £2.4 billion. Factor in continuing unrest in the Middle and near East which is leading to a rise in Oil Prices something which will also hit us at the pumps and elsewhere with increased food and energy costs and you would think that developing cheap sustainable safe secure energy would be pretty important.

This is more than important,it's the potential game changer and is far to important to be left to the profit chasing whims of an energy cartel. We need to seriously and actively pursue the development of sustainable, reliable and secure energy supplies here in Wales and elsewhere in the UK with a serious degree or urgency. What makes this interesting is that some of these energy can and should be community owned and community beneficial, something that could generate green energy and green jobs here in Wales.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


The Crown Estate is set for a multi-million pound windfall from the development of wind farms – and Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood believes the benefits of natural resources should go to the people of Wales.

A Freedom of Information request by Plaid’s Sustainability spokesperson revealed that the existing offshore wind farms in north Wales at North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats generated income to the Crown Estate of almost £400,000 in 2009-10.

And that is set to multiply many times with the development of other sites. Construction of the Gwynt-y-Mor wind project is due to start this year and the Crown Estate told Leanne Wood it also had a zone development agreement with Centrica to develop up to 4.2 gigawatts, covering both Welsh and English waters.

In addition, the Crown Estate has onshore options for three wind farms at Lys Dymper with Wind Power Wales, at Llanllwni with RES Renewables and Cilfaesty with RWE Power. Planning applications have been submitted for the first two.

The annual report of Crown Estate showed its Welsh holdings generated a gross surplus of £2.3m in 2009-10 with capital receipts bringing in £1.8m. It owns more than 3,000 acres across Wales, principally agricultural holdings. Profits earned by the Crown Estate are paid to the Treasury, according to them, for "the benefit of the nation".

Last year it was revealed that the Royal Family had secured a lucrative deal that will earn them tens of millions of pounds from the massive expansion of offshore wind farms. They will net up to £37.5 million extra income every year from the drive for green energy because the seabed within Britain's territorial waters is owned by the Crown Estate.

Leanne Wood AM, Plaid South Wales Central, said:

"The two North Wales wind farms generated £389,000 in income over the last financial year and that is set to grow into millions of pounds over the next few years with the increasing drive for more green energy. Many onshore and offshore projects are on the cards.

"Plaid’s view is that it is high time that profits which are earned from Wales’ natural resources, the seabed and the land should be owned by the Welsh Government for benefit of the people of Wales and not into the Treasury's coffers, which is passed into an already excessively wealthy Royal Family.

"We don’t want to repeat the situation where huge profits were made from the coal industry but Wales did not enjoy the benefits and is still paying the price today.

"Virtually all the UK’s sea bed, including that in Wales, up to 12 nautical miles and more than half the UK foreshore is owned by the Crown Estate.


We are responsible for three agricultural holdings, under different uses: Aberystwyth, which includes 34 hectares (84 acres) of land used by the University of Aberystwyth for research and the fourth largest sheep market in Wales, at 3 hectares (8 acres); Plynlimon, 1,185 hectares (2,928 acres) comprising two agricultural holdings; and Tintern, 68 hectares (169 acres) which includes substantial mineral interests on the west bank of the River Wye. In the interest of preserving Tintern Abbey for future generations, we have placed it in the care of CADW (the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly) under a long-term management agreement. The majority of our estate in Wales is common land, primarily used for grazing sheep but we also have more traditional farms.

Friday, 18 March 2011


News that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a "measured exit" from nuclear power in response to the crisis affecting four reactors in Japan should be welcomed. She defended the temporary closure of Germany's seven oldest reactors, saying sensibly that because of the Japanese disaster it could no longer be "business as usual". Chancellor Merkel told the German parliament that the goal was "to reach the age of renewable energy as soon as possible".

Likewise, China has now suspended approval for new nuclear power stations following the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant. checks at existing reactors and those under construction will also be carried out. China, which has a desperate need for energy is currently building 27 new reactors - this is about 40% of the total number being built around the world. China is increasingly worried about the nuclear accident in Japan.

We don't need Nuclear power and should invest in sustainable renewable energy sources, which in the event of disaster are significantly less dangerous. We also have a pressing need for energy. Our problem was made worse by the Conservatives headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s which has in turn been compounded by a real failure in basic strategic energy planning and made worse by the current Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources.

The old New Labour Government repeatedly ignored warnings that it was setting the UK on a path towards higher prices and energy blackouts. Over the next five years almost all of our old nuclear reactors, along with nine major coal and oil-fired power stations, will be closed, with nothing ready to replace them. We are now in the situation where we are now even more dependent upon imported gas from either unstable regions or dubious suppliers and we the customers face unnecessarily expensive bills.

As a matter of utmost urgency the Westminster Government, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly should work with the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self sufficient via renewable non market driven non nuclear energy resources rather than pursing the dubious and costly (potentially in more ways than one) nuclear alternative that is particularly favoured by Whitehall civil servants.

The renewable energy sector can and should play a major role in creating more sustainable green energy jobs in Wales and elsewhere in the UK. If we can develop a flexible self-sufficient energy development strategy that actually encourages decentralised microgeneration schemes and then actually implement it then we have a fighting chance of creating jobs, useful new skills and will be able to bootstrap the economy out of the recession, as helping consumers and securing a stable safe energy supply.

If we do this then we will keep the lights on and rebuild and reboot our economy as well.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Monmouth MP David Davies told BBC Wales the whole argument was "nonsense."

He said Monmouthshire has always been a part of Wales and was only separated legally to make life easier for Henry VIII.

Mr Davies said just because people in the county voted No to further Assembly powers did not mean they wanted to be a part of England.

(Source BBC News Website)

Enough said...

Sunday, 13 March 2011


An independent review of police pay and conditions in England and Wales (undertaken by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor) has called for the abolition of a series of allowances and special payments. This may mean that Police Officers on front-line duties might see their pay rise but 40% may well lose out. The review has called for an end to the £1,212 competence-related threshold payment, the Special Priority Payment of up to £5,000 and says no officers should move up the pay scale for two years.

The review has also suggested suspending chief officer and superintendent bonuses. It notes that police earn 10 to 15% more than other emergency workers and the armed forces and in some areas such as Wales and the North East they are paid up to 60% more than average local earnings. The review suggests that only officers working unsocial hours should be paid for doing so, with those working between 2000 and 0600 getting an extra 10% on their basic hourly pay.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has said that the Westminster Government cuts could lead to the loss of 28,000 officer and civilian staff jobs over the next four years. The Con Dem Government is preparing to reduce funding for the police by 20% by 2014-15.Currently 43 Police forces in England and Wales employ about 244,000 people, with 143,000 police officers and 101,000 civilian support staff. ACPO has predicted the loss of 12,000 police officers and 16,000 civilian staff as a result of spending cuts.

We already know that Gwent Police are to face cuts (potentially 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 and serious bout of belt tightening as the force comes to terms with seriously reduced funding.

The 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.

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 and 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 solve, curb or reduce 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 don't think so!

Friday, 11 March 2011


I welcome the news that the UK Shipping Minister Mike Penning is going to extend the period of consultation over the future of coastguard services by six weeks. I have serious concerns about the UK Government's plans to slash the number of coastguard stations around the UK to save money which could result in overnight operational control of large parts of the Welsh coastline being run from the North Sea coast. The UK Government has stated that it plans to merge the current 17 stations into two main hubs with five supporting stations.

The main Coastguard hubs would be at Aberdeen and on the English south coast. Swansea and either Liverpool or Belfast would be among the supporting stations that are expected to look after the Welsh coastline. This is a bad idea, made worse by the fact that the intention is for these supporting stations not to operate on a full-time basis. Under current proposals the Coastguard stations in Milford Haven and Holyhead will close.

The UK Government needs to acknowledge that the Coastguard is actually a vital emergency service in Wales and our coastline must be properly protected. These proposed cuts will affect the Coastguard's ability to protect and save lives. Local knowledge of the coast will be lost or eroded by moving to centralised coastguard hubs some hundreds of miles away in Scotland and England, even with state of the art modern technology this is madness.

The Coastguard needs expert local knowledge and local manned coastguard service bases to be at its most effective and should be valued just like the other emergency services. The current cost saving proposals are very likely to result in compulsory redundancies for skilled and specialised jobs when the coastal stations are closed down. So far the consultation has been a mess with no proper risk assessment in place, it is important that the bottom line is safety first and I sincerely hope there is time to pause for thought, and to think again and time to scrap these crazy plans.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


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

Much is made of cost savings, but, a closed or closing village or community school is more than just bricks and mortar and additions or subtractions to a cold clinical and balance sheet. One immediate effect is that aside from the damage done by the loss of the school to the local community, and immediate result is that parents or the county council end up in the businesses or providing transportation to and from more distant schools, especially in rural areas.

It is also worth remembering the fact that the communities affected end up losing yet another focus (often along with their Post Office and their Pub) as well as losing potential community facilities and almost no one ends up with smaller class sizes. MCC has blamed the Welsh Government for the budget settlement and the Welsh Government has said that it is a matter for MCC - none of which helps concerned parents, teachers and members of the communities affected.

Now while, I cannot comment on what’s going on outside of Monmouthshire, in the eyes of many people Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) is pursuing a policy of short term thinking when it comes to the closure of Primary Schools across the county. Certainly MCC needs fair funding and proper financial settlement from the Welsh Government, it's needs should be properly assessed, accounted and catered for the money pit as most people would agree is not bottomless.

Many local people (not just concerned parents) have real concerns about the small schools closure policy as it has been carried out in Monmouthshire where it is suspected of being driven by potentially questionable motives whether they be immediate short term financial gains from school closures and a more medium term motive of cashing in when it comes to disposing of the former school sites for simple short term commercial gain.

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

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

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

Elsewhere people do things differently, some governments take a much longer more community minded (and ultimately more economically sensible) view of education, while travelling in Asturias, in Spain, a few years ago I came across rural schools that were open with school rolls as low as 10 pupils, with shared teachers, support staff and shared administration.

We need to rethink the way we run our community and village schools, there is now reason why a head teacher could not be responsible for 4 or 5 smaller schools (this something that Church in Wales vicars have been doing for many years) across relatively wide rural area, modern technology can be used for shared administrative services and we could even end up with smaller class sizes, which would be a first.

Here in Wales we must not use the new austerity as an excuse for poor or lazy thinking, we need the courage and ambition to develop new ideas and new approaches as to how our small schools can continue to play a key role at the heart of our communities.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


I and a fair few other people (no doubt) have always had mixed feelings about the competence levels of the Welsh FA over the years, recent developments in relation to the allocation of tickets for the Wales v England (European Qualifier, to be held on Saturday March 26th) to Newport County AFC, Wrexham and Colwyn Bay Fans, have merely reinforced my and no doubt other peoples doubts about the competence of the Welsh FA.



In the last 24 hours there have been some disturbing developments with regard to our tickets for the Wales v England.

Yesterday morning Phil Morgan confirmed for the fourth time with the ticket office at the Welsh FA that out tickets had been allocated and were en route. When the post arrived mid morning there was a letter from the Welsh FA, dated 3rd March, stating that due to an administration error we were to be allocated NO tickets for the match. Phil rang back straight away to be told that their ticket office had been repeatedly looking at the wrong database and that we were to be allocated no tickets.

To clarify :

1. Newport County were assured at the beginning and on multiple occasions during the process that there were no issues with the number of tickets required.

2. Newport County contacted the Welsh FA prior to the 1st closing date of 31st January to arrange delivery of applications and monies in person. We were told that the date had been extended to the 18th February. We asked if the currently held applications had to be submitted and were told no, to collate them all together prior to the 18th as there were plenty of tickets and we were guaranteed our allocation.

3. Newport County delivered our ticket application and monies in person to the Welsh FA prior to that closing date and were assured that we would be given the full allocation.

4. Various personnel at Newport County have been assured on three subsequent occasions by the Welsh FA, including yesterday, that this was the case.

5. That the Welsh FA have cashed the presented cheques for the applications indicating that the applications had been accepted.

6. Newport County have made attempts to speak to both Welsh FA Chief Executive Jonathan Forde and Commercial & Marketing Manager Ian Davies today - we were informed that they were not available.

We will keep you fully informed of all conversations once the Welsh FA have replied, but if you wish to progress the situation personally can we suggest :

1. Call the Welsh FA on 029 2043 5830 to clarify the situation.

2. Jonathan Forde is Dave Brookes' guest on the Real Radio Sports phone in tonight [ 8th March ] for an hour 6 - 7 ( 0845 1052106). He may well be able to clarify the situation whilst on air.

Please do not call the club office at present. The volunteers who worked so hard on behalf of the club and the Welsh FA to sell and co-ordinate these ticket sales have no more information than listed above and we will publish more information as soon as we have it.

Chris Blight
Newport County Chairman


Newport County AFC have become exceptionally good at regularly communicating with their fans (I am one myself) it's such a pity that the Welsh FA is not that good at it, not to mention other things...

Monday, 7 March 2011


The three London based parties had a pretty poor record in the old parliament when it came to standing up for Wales. Things did not get off to a good start in this still relatively new parliament either - especially when the new Con Dem Government refused to either commit to or provide a timetable to develop a high speed rail link to Swansea - sorry make that Cardiff.

Originally New Labour only proposed to electrify and improve the rail line as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Plaid driven One Wales Government and Ieuan Wyn Jones did they reluctantly agree to propose to electrify the line as far as Swansea.

In the long months that followed the emergence of the ConDem Government in Westminster, they were just a tad evasive when it comes to committing to the extending the electrification programme into Wales. And we are seriously expected to believe that Wales is a ConDem, let alone a Labour priority – I think not.

Now of course now it's not just the Swansea - London railway line that needs electrification, there are plenty of other more local lines including the North Wales Coast line and the Valley lines where the National Assembly can make a real difference to transport links and people’s lives. We should also not forget the Severn Tunnel diversionary line, which lies entirely outside of Wales, but, is particularly important.

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

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

Talk to (or listen to) anyone who works the rails (or anyone who has relatives who work on the rails) in the south and they will tell you that the aging Severn Tunnel is going to require more maintenance as time passes, yet it remains a vital transport link, but it ranks pretty low on Network Rails list of priorities.

Interestingly enough back in November 2008 when Gordon Brown was running the shop, the Office of Rail Regulation’s settlement for Network Rail allocated some £26 billion pounds some 2.4 billion less than requested. This has forced Network Rail to drop a number of projects - if you think this was a short sighted decision just wait until the ConDem cuts really kick in!

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

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

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

So at the moment Wales is one of the few counties in Europe, save for Albania and Moldova to have no electrified rail-lines, this is one exclusive club we do not need to be a member of. While the Con Dems have finally committed to electrification of the railway lines from Cardiff to London, admittedly with about as much grace as someone having wisdom teeth extracted, they have finally done so.

Having got this far we now need a concrete commitment to a timetable as to when the job will get actually gets done. Personally I would also ask them to start the work from the Cardiff end of the line. When it comes to electrified railways it used to be a case of literally for Wales see England - and that was never acceptable! However, as was once said, things can only get better !

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Gaddafi and friend
News that the director of the London School of Economics Sir Howard Davies has submitted his resignation after admitting an "error of judgement" in establishing links between the LSE and the brutally repressive regime of Colonel Gaddafi. Oops - for soon to be former LSE director had visited Libya to advise the regime about financial reforms and had accepted a £300,000 donation from the Libyan leader's second son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (who counts Prince Andrew, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Nat Rothschild as friends) for research at the LSE.

How times change barely a few weeks ago the Libyan leaders son, Saif al-Islam, was busy socialising with the creme de la creme of British society, now his former friends and business associates in the west are scuttling for the shadows and are deeply embarrassed, and no doubt will soon never even admit ever spending time with the Libyans. If you take this to its logical extent then questions need to be asked about the relationship between educational institutions (and Government) and funds from brutal, despotic and undemocratic regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Peoples Republic of China, Iran, etc). There are a few University's here in Wales that had been the recipient of donations form particularly unsavoury regimes...

Thursday, 3 March 2011


When it comes to economic development and regeneration providing the best conditions to enable our communities to grow and flourish, a sound planning policy is a key component. We should favour local small to medium sized enterprises and need to have much better thought out and far more consistent planning policies for in, out and edge of town retail developments, before our communities are damaged beyond repair.

Our Local Authorities have been too often tempted as developers offer includes, sweeteners and inducements to ease the passage of proposed developments. They may be advised of the financial consequences of planning applications being taken to appeal if permission is refused - so much for local democracy! Local Authorities periodically fail to have adequately researched retailing policies within their development plans. If retailing needs have not been assessed then it’s difficult to amend or refuse any potentially damaging planning applications from developers, then local small businesses and consumers pay the price.

Despite the talk (or lip service) about improving the vitality and viability of our town centres, many retail developments have consistently undermined this aim, many local authorities have turned a blind eye to the economic and social consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments. The economic reality has fallen well short of the verbal aspiration, just look at the damage that has been done to Abergavenny, Chepstow and Monmouth within Monmouthshire and elsewhere in Wales.

How can local regeneration schemes work, when the once thriving commercial heart of our high streets has already been seriously damaged by an inability to compete on level terms with the increasingly aggressive tactics of supermarkets and retail chains who are chasing an ever larger market share. More than ever, our planners need to think about the long term economic consequences of planning decisions, to take the longer term view, rather than get fixated on short term financial gains and questionable inducements from developers.

You may have noticed that regeneration comes and goes in phases, in any particular community or town regeneration schemes will have cleaned areas up, built in cycle routes, created transport plans, pedestrianised streets, reopened them to traffic, re-pedestrianised them and made certain streets shared space with both cars and pedestrians (this is not as crazy as it sounds, and actually works) and so on.

We have restricted parking, created parking and removed parking, made it free and charged for it, created bus lanes, removed bus lanes and varied the hours when bus lanes can operate, etc - now this is all well and good and may reflect the latest trend in regeneration and development, but has it made the places where we live, work and shop any better? Has the regeneration process or scheme increased or generated wealth in our communities or provided people opportunities to get jobs, to go into business for themselves or generate wealth?

Regeneration is that often perceived (and sometimes it is) as being driven from the top down i.e. by elected bodies as a process that merely consults after the plans have been drawn up rather than before, during and after - any process run this way runs the risk of becoming deeply flawed. Our communities, towns and cities have over the years has been the recipient of much grant aid, development and redevelopment schemes and initiatives - how can we measure success?

Measuring a regeneration schemes success should be a key factor in the regeneration process. This is the question that needs to be asked - after the cement and the paint has dried, after the regeneration professionals have moved on - have the various schemes made a difference, I mean beyond any immediate physical improvements to the environment, have they made a real difference when it comes to wealth generation in the area affected by the regeneration scheme? If the end result is in reality a makeover, and the targeted community is no better off, save for being bereft of the 'regeneration funds' that have been effectively siphoned off by professional regeneration companies - is this success?

We need to think beyond the tick box list of the regeneration schemes managers? One key component that is often ignored or marginalised is the communities greatest resource - its people. So rather than regeneration and redevelopment professionals moving in and engaging in a token consultation process they should directly talk to and engage with local people and actually find out what they would like to be done, what they actually want for their community and their town.

Regeneration schemes and projects should be directed from the bottom up rather than the top down model that we often seem to pursue. When spending public money, then work it hard and squeeze out every possible benefit and maximise the impact locally of the regeneration process and build local benefits into the tendering process - whether by employing local people, using local resources, local skills and local input. If you are reusing or renovating old buildings then any regeneration scheme needs to ensure that old buildings can make a living after the regeneration scheme is finished.

If we do this rather than merely making a token gesture towards public consultation then any regeneration schemes will, with hard work really begin to deliver tangible benefits to our communities. After all regeneration should be a process rather than an event.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


David Cameron, the Con Dem PM, says that Britain is working with its allies on a plan to establish a military no-fly zone over Libya, because of the threat of  "further appalling steps" being taken by Col Muammar Gaddafi to oppress his own people. This seems a sensible solution (but for historical reasons without US involvement if possible), which is one step away from having to put boots on the ground and direct military intervention.

Perhaps Western leaders may have finally learned the lesson that its relatively easy to commit troops on the ground, but, a much more difficult and often costly in human terms to get them back out again. By way of coincidence Cameron's predecessor Conservative PM John Major went along with the establishment of 'No
Fly' zones in Iraq in 1990 / 1991.

Lets hope that this solution is decidedly more effective than the farcical and selectively effective 'no fly zones' that were established to protect the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs from Saddam. This time lets make sure that ground attack helicopters are covered by the 'no fly' rules - they weren't last time. At least for the Libyans (unlike the Kurds) they will not be periodically subjected to ground attack by Turkish planes operating from the same airfields as the NATO aircraft that were protecting the Kurds from Iraqi attacks.

Heaven forbid that the Libyan crisis drags on and Gaddafi ends up clinging to power (in and around Tripoli) for that will mean that there will be an arms embargo which would harm any prospects of an outright opposition success as with Bosnia. I mean like Gaddafi does not have enough stock piled already, no doubt previously sold to him at cost by British Arms dealers (under New Labour and the Con Dems)...oops...