Monday, 27 June 2011



Rally against the Pension Cuts
Lunchtime (12pm - 2pm) 

John Frost Square, Newport 

Thursday 30th June 2011

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Last week the price of oil fell after the International Energy Agency announced that its members would sell some of their reserves on the world market.The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that the move was in response to the disruption in supplies caused by the Libyan conflict. The plan envisaged a release of an extra 60 million barrels of oil on to the world market.

The US government announced that 30m barrels, half of the total, would be released from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The UK planned to contribute three million barrels.The release has been designed to reduce the price of oil further in order to protect the economy.Oil Industry analysts have warned that there is a risk the IEA's latest move may hurt relations with major oil exporters i.e OPEC.

In truth any short term economic effect caused by the release of oil reserves will be cancelled over the medium term by a combination of increased demand and the effects of falling production. IEA members are required to hold sufficient stocks of oil to last 90 days without any imports (currently the IEA says its members are holding enough for 146 days or 4.1 billion barrels). IEA members have agreed to make two million barrels of this available every day for 30 days in an effort to increase the amount of oil on the market and therefore reduce the price.

The IEA also says that it will review the market again in 30 days time. The Saudi's incidentally have come out and said that they would be increasing production to meet demand - it will be interesting to see if this actually happens considering the potentially perilous state of production form the Ghawar and Safanyia oilfields. Either way no doubt OPEC will reduce production to maximise their profits and mitigate the IEA's decision.

just for the record as we begin to face the effects of peak oil, it is worth noting that oil consumption in Canada and the United states has grown by 20% since 1980 and is up 63% in Australia and 74% in New Zealand, obviously the Chinese are also using more oil than previously to feed their growing economy. Prior to 2008 the IEA itself said that production form the world's oil wells are is declining at a rate of 3.7% per year. After 2008 the IEA vigorous revision of it's figures and stated this rate of decline actually stands at 6.7%.

Why does the phrase fiddling whilst Rome burns come to mind...

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Something different is going on in Scotland, not quite under the radar, but nearly! Slowly, but surely, almost quietly and certainty with very little fanfare, the last few Scottish Governments have been been systematically reversing Dr Beeching's cuts to rural rail services. Over the last 30 years, some sixty two railway stations in Scotland have quietly reopened - this number is significantly more than anywhere else in the UK. In December 2009 the Airdrie to Bathgate Line which had been closed to regular passenger traffic since 1956 started to run again. This reopened service brought rail to an area which had lived without it for half a century. Rail re-openings have enjoyed a cross party consensus in Scotland. It helps to have both the powers, the political will and a plan - just imagine what we could do here in Wales with just two out of the three? perhaps we could wait for Carwyn...perhaps not!

Friday, 24 June 2011


Oxfam Cymru claim half of Welsh people have changed their eating habits in the last two years, with 39% having to do so because food prices have rocketed.They suggest that more people in financial distress are approaching food banks for free, short-term supplies (as previously blogged by Leanne Wood AM). The OXFAM survey, which is part of a global study into eating habits in the last two years, comes after the Office for National Statistics revealed rising food inflation was escalating the cost of living.

The hard statistics reveal that a range of foods have undergone sharp rises, with prices of meat up 5.1%, fish up 11.4%, bread and cereals up 5.8%, mineral waters, juices and soft drinks up by 10.3% and jams by 7.5%. Oxfam Cymru says only 60% of Welsh respondents reported having enough to eat on a daily basis – with 39% saying they got enough, most or some of the time. They pointed to global figures, which showed an average 61% getting enough to eat all the time, indicating the Welsh statistics were part of a global problem.

A number of issues are going to impact on food prices, here and in the rest of the world. There is Climate Change, which as temperatures rise, will lead to a fall in crop yields – potentially we are talking of up-to half of their current levels in some African countries. At the same time, extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts and floods will get worse and become more frequent, and the seasons that people rely on to grow crops will get even more unpredictable.

Across the world governments have dragged their feet for too long. We need to start dealing with a situation that's only going to get more urgent. The food price spikes of 2008 are partially related to and being aggravated by land grabs, as wealthy companies have invested heavily in cheap agricultural land in poor countries, often for commercial use. The land that is sold is actually being used by poor families to grow food in many cases.

Poor farmers and their families are often forcibly evicted with little or no warning or compensation, and to make things worse often the land is either left idle by investors who know it will only grow in value, or actually used in ways that reduce food production. So it's time for effective global rules to get land grabs under control – rules which ensure local communities see the benefits of investments and which help make sure that governments provide secure access to land for smallholder farmers, and especially women.

After decades of progress, the number of people without enough to eat is actually increasing, and food price spikes are a big part of the problem. That's because, when you spend up to 75% of your weekly income on food – as many poor families are forced to do – sudden rises have an especially destructive effect. Price spikes have many causes including the changing climate, oil prices, dysfunctional commodities markets, biofuels policies that turn potentially productive crop-lands into fuel for cars rather than fuel for people. Oxfam and a number of other agencies conclusions is that we are facing a whole new challenge.

It's time for governments to actually work together to deal with food price crises effectively and to tackle the problems that mean millions of people can't afford enough to eat. After the best part of one hundred years of so of crop yield increases, crop yields are beginning to flat-line partially because intensive farming can only go so far. We need to focus on the huge untapped potential of small-scale farmers in developing countries and especially of women, who often do most of the work for often scant reward.

The reality is that some 500 million small farms put the food on the plates of some two billion people (one in three of our planets population). With effective government support and a focus on sustainable techniques, productivity can soar. In Vietnam, for instance, the number of hungry people has halved in just 12 years – a transformation which was kick-started by government investment in small farmers previously disadvantaged by the old Soviet style collective farms. It's time to change the way that we in Wales and the rest of the world thinks about growing food.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


The somewhat incandescent response from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland football associations to the announcement of Great Britain football teams for the 2012 Olympic Games should not have come as any great surprise to the British Olympic Association (BOA).

The other home nations FA's (outside England) have long made it more than clear that they are absolutely opposed to any suggestion that there be a joint 'British Football Team', and they have justifiably found the tone adopted by the BOA in making the announcement decidedly provocative if not patronising.

There is no new agreement, there was no old one, there is no falling in line and the distinct possibility that hell would have to freeze over before there is one. This is not news the position held by the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FA's is not a new one.

The basic belief that if the other home footballing nations (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) rally behind the Union flag for the Olympics, then world governing body FIFA may well in time, perhaps not in the next few years but eventually, decide to make the joint team a permanent fixture, is an entirely sound one.

The risk is too great and the price that could be paid far, far too high, regardless of any muttered assurances from Fifa that any participation in a joint Olympic team will have no bearing on their national autonomy, in light of FIFA's instability is absolutely not worth taking.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


The news that Tesco have won their appeal against an initial decision to turn down planning permission for a new store, should come as no surprise. Over 500 people objected to Tesco plans to open an Express store in a dis-used pub, the Black Horse Inn on Somerton Road. The Council planning officers recommended that the application be refused as they are concerned about congestion and road safety issues together with a lack of parking provision.

Local residents have also objected on grounds of impact on existing shops. The Council's planning committee considered the application on 1st April 2009 and rejected the plans. The committee recommended refusal on three grounds - that it would be detrimental to the vitality and viability of nearby retail centres; insufficient parking; substandard access.

The Planning Inspectorate however allowed Tesco to appeal to convert the former Black Horse Inn pub on Somerton Road into an Express store. While I have no doubt that the Tesco PR machine will role out the usual claptrap about creating jobs and boosting the local economy, but there can be little doubt that this new Tesco Express store in Somerton, is part of an aggressive business strategy in the Newport area that will expressly target local shops and small businesses in the local shopping area, with a view to taking their trade. Sadly this is part of a recognised problem which is taking place across Wales and which does not just relate to Tesco but most of the other larger UK wide retail chains.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has noted that the UK loses approximately 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 effects consumers and communities as they effectively lose any real choice in the marketplace. Over recent years across all of Wales, that 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.

The planning process is being undermined, as when our local authorities fear the cost implications of supermarket applications being taken to appeal after appeal if the original outline planning permission is refused then we are progressing down a slippery slope. When we reach the point that where Councillors may be advised by their officers of the potential costs if a development proposal involving a larger more aggressive retail company is refused and that they could go to appeal - then so much for local democracy!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Sometimes you may wonder why people get involved in political life - motivators can not doubt be wide and varied, from righting an obvious wrong, a particular issue (or issues) that need sorting out or fixing, a passion for the environment, social justice, even a somewhat selfish desire to better themselves - while the later is less palatable, it is the case in certain circumstances. For the life of me I can find no obvious reason for getting involved in politics for David Cameron, George Osbourne, Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, and their ilk - other than a need perhaps to have something to do everyday.

Now, we have been repeatedly told that we are all in it together, sounds nice,but, its not quite true, most of us are very much more in it than some are. The Guardian (05.02.2011) revealed that a number of Con Dem ministers set up blind trusts so that they can continue to profit from financial interests which could present a conflict with their government responsibilities.

Ironically there was a threefold increase in this sort of thing under the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government by way of comparison with the previous sleaze tainted New Labour government. The Guardian noted that 16 ministers, including the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, and the cabinet office minister, Francis Maude, put blind trusts in place, as recorded by the official register of ministerial interests.

Do you remember this...

"It is wholly untenable to have millions of people making sacrifices in their living standards only to see the banks getting away scot-free."

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, 17 December 2010

and also this...

"Bankers have to realise that the British public helped to bail out the banks and it is very galling when they see bankers pay themselves unjustified bonuses."

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17 December 2010

The previous New Labour government made much of its light financial regulatory touch, at least until the wheels came spectacularly off the wagon, will the Con Dem's make much of their effective refusal to take any action over banking regulation. Before they were in government and before the last Westminster election Vince Cable (now the Business Secretary) and George Osbourne (now the Chancellor) were at it hammer and tongs as to who was going to be toughest when it came to regulating and controlling the worst excesses of the banks. And since they went into government?

The Con Dem UK Government missed an opportunity to break up and 'privatise' the larger 'publicly owned' financial institutions, they should have sold the shares on the open market with specific quotas on how many shares any one institution can own. From where many people are sat these bloated overgrown banking organisations appear to be a serious block on the ‘free market’ and too busy lining their own pockets.

George Osborne and the Tories appear to have reluctantly gone along with the much publicly stated need to regulate the more unsavoury aspects of the banking sector, but, whether they will actually and eventually do anything is open to question. Perhaps they ought to declare an interest regulating the banks in the City may impinge on the acquisition of future lucrative directorships in City banks unless they have them already that is?

One question that may also remain unanswered is whether or not they will do anything about tax evasion, tax avoidance and the regulation tax havens? It's odd really because the Con Dem's have displayed such zeal in their efforts to chase people on benefits. Sadly I suspect the answer will be no (in relation to tax evasion at least) as any such move would ruffle more than a few feathers in the City and no doubt more than a few awkward questions at dinner party's?

Monday, 20 June 2011


There are times when the South Wales Argus justifiably draws our attention to some pretty grim statistics - today is one of those days. The figures for Domestic abuse / violence in Gwent have been released and they make pretty grim reading. News that more than 16,000 cases of domestic abuse / violence have been reported to Gwent Police in the last two years should shock us, we should also spare a thought for those cases that are not being reported and recorded.

Gwent Police figures (according to the South Wales Argus) show that there were 8,659 incidents (2,215 of which involved violence) reported in 2009/10 and 8,093 incidents (2,631 of which involved violence) of domestic abuse reported in 2010/11. The first all Wales domestic abuse conference took place last week in Cardiff (hosted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Gwent Police) as Police forces across Wales are looking at ways of protecting repeat victims of domestic abuse and encouraging the reporting of domestic abuse, at a time when they face reductions in their budgets.

While the way in which our Police Forces deal with domestic violence /abuse has improved greatly over the years, but, there is still room for improvement.The South Wales Argus raises an interesting point, perhaps it is time for a register of domestic abusers to be established, so that the repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse who come to notice can be monitored and tracked.

This is something that the Association of Chief Police Officers have been suggesting for some years, back in November 2009 they suggested that:
  • Persons at risk of violence have the ‘right to know’ about relevant information;
  • consideration of a new criminal offence whereby a prosecution may be brought on the basis of evidence of repeated violent behaviour (known as a ‘Course of Conduct’) against different victims of violence; and
  • that the law should be changed to enable the police to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order of up to 14 days duration, to prevent a suspected perpetrator of this form of violence from entering the address of the victim and/or to prevent contact with the victim.

This may help provide a basic level of protection for those who suffer domestic abuse / violence. Some Police Forces in the 1990's as I recall from a previous life actively looked at ways to remove the onus of prosecution away from the victim, something that would help to flag up repeat offenders. In my previous employment I saw the tragic consequences, that could (and can still) result from the situation where the victims of domestic abuse have been too terrified to take the step of co-operating with the Police and prosecuting authorities.

Victims of domestic abuse come form all levels of society, there is no stereotypical victim, and victims all deserve equal and easy access to justice and protection from abuse. Further progress must be made to take the onus of prosecution away from the victims of domestic abuse, while at the same time ensuring that victims and their children get the fullest levels of protection, safety and security from their abusers.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


There is an energy rush going on in Siberia as billions of dollars are being invested in new hydro-power dams in remotest parts of Siberia. This rush is to cash in on the export of electricity to the power hungry Peoples Republic of China. Siberia one of the world more environmentally sensitive green lungs is remote and rich in minerals and the potential of renewable energy - but how these riches are exploited has repercussions for the people on the ground and in the way.

The Angara river, which is the only river that flows out of Lake Baikal and a main tributary of the Yenisei river, which flows to the Arctic ocean has already been dammed three times, at Irkutsk, Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk. A fourth hydro-electric dam is close to completion at Boguchanskaya, near Kodinsk, and is due to start generating power in April 2012. Many more dams are planned for the Eastern Siberian wilderness to feed the demands of electricity-hungry China.

Burning Houses in Siberia
The local people are paying this price for the energy rush as the small picture-postcard villages made up of traditional wooden houses that have grown up on its banks over the last 300 years are all being burned, so that after the area is flooded, the debris does not clog up the new dam. There have been problems with the compensation scheme, delays in payments and problems with getting new accommodation elsewhere for local people, some people are concerned that the compensation scheme is cheating people out of their land.

Russian and Siberian Environmental groups are also concerned about the impact of other dams on the river system, noting that some parts of the river have turned to swamp, buried trees have rotted and changed the chemistry of the water. Alexander Kolotov, of Rivers International, said: "They say they are building new dams on Siberian rivers in order to save the planet from Chinese greenhouse gases. So of course the question is whether you are ready to destroy the Siberian environment, kill great Siberian rivers, and flood vast forests, in order to save the world from Chinese emissions."

We in Wales, have been no stranger in recent centuries to the exploitation of our mineral (and other) resources and have had (so far) little in put either way into how they have been developed and received scant long term benefits. This has to change, whether it comes to exploitation and development of our nations energy potential, be it on or off-shore or the use of our rich water resources, the people of Wales should be fully involved in any decisions made and our wishes should be respected rather than overridden.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Mes Aynak
In all honest most people tend initially not to associate Afghanistan and Archaeology,but, despite the savage war against the Soviets, the brutal civil wars and the war against terror Afghanistan (a literal crossroads of the ancient world) is awash with rich and largely UN-excavated (if sadly occasionally well pillaged and looted) archaeological sites.

Some years ago, the Taliban blew up Afghanistan's ancient Buddha's of Bamiyan, provoking a degree of international outrage amongst the concerned and amongst the chattering classes. At the time the Taliban's brutal treatment of women and religious minorities oddly enough provoked less public outrage - no doubt because pipeline route deals (to get the oil out of Central Asia) were in the offing.

Now, the country's rich archaeological heritage is facing a new and different threat - that of mineral exploitation and development of resources. The Peoples Republic of China (which is busy sourcing minerals and foodstuffs from around the world to feed its economy and its people) has set its sights on another ancient Buddhist site in pursuit of copper.

The site in question is Mes Aynak lies, in Logar province, not far from Kabul. Formerly an al-Qaeda training camp, is also home to a a Buddhist monastery that is more than 1,400 years old. This site is relatively intact with walls, corridors, stupas brightly painted red Buddha's. The monks originally settled here because there was copper in the ground; it was part of a Buddhist kingdom. The site was a way-station on the Silk Road, which amongst other things carried Buddhism from India to Tibet, and into China.

Now the China Metallurgical Group (MGC) has been granted a 30-year lease to mine copper to develop a copper mine. The mine alone could give Afghanistan $1.2 billion (£755 million) per year in revenue along with much needed jobs. Chinese miners have set up camp. Special armed security guards patrol miles of fencing around the site.Beneath the site lies the world's second-largest untapped copper reserve, and the Chinese have bought the mineral rights to the entire area.

The archaeological site was discovered during excavation of the site for MGC - archaeologists have three years to salvage the site, which could easily take 10 years to properly excavate. Afghan archaeologists are well aware of what has been lost in thirty years of war, and deeply concerned that a lot of their cultural heritage has been destroyed, damaged and looted. Their concerns stretch beyond Afghanistan as they perceive the artefact's as not just belong to their country, but as human treasure which belongs to all of us.

The Afghans could with some luck and the rich mineral; deposits could prove a break form the past a decent revenue stream to enrich the country and its people, but, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world it's about balancing development with preserving (or at least properly excavating) our archaeological heritage for this and future generations.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


The Humber Bridge is to become Britain's most expensive crossing, after an application to increase tolls by 11% was approved by the Con Dem government. The price rise was given the go ahead by the Department for Transport (DfT), but some local businesses and residents have voiced concerns about the move.

The Humber Bridge Board had applied to the DfT to raise tolls by 11% from £2.70 to £3 per crossing to pay back its £330 million debt. Approval was given after the planning inspectorate recommended the rise following a three-day public inquiry earlier this year. A public inquiry and consultation about increasing bridge tolls - how novel?

There was consistent and persistent bleating from Westminster Labour sheep between 1997 and 2010 along the lines of there is nothing we can do to reduce or stabilise the tolls! It turns that this is or was not quite true as the last New Labour Government actively intervened in October 2009 in relation to the Humber Bridge. Perhaps New / Old [delete as applicable] Labour in Wales hoped that we would not notice?

Sadiq Khan, the then New Labour Minister of Transport, announced a grant of £6m to the Humber Bridge company, saying that, “the Government was committed to doing everything it can to protect communities and businesses from economic downturn and help the country to recover. That is why I decided not to accept the Humber Bridge board’s proposed toll increases”. Very nice if you can get it I must say - but if that was the case in England, then why not in Wales?

The Con Dems no doubt firmly believe in applying the rigours of 'free market' so obviously there will be no intervention to subsidise or stabilise bridge toll prices this time. Just for the record the SNP Scottish Government abolished the remaining Scottish bridge tolls with the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Act 2008 which came into effect on 11th February 2008... if only?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


The decision of the ruling Conservative Party group on Monmouth County Council (MCC) to grant approval for a supermarket development on the current site of Abergavenny Livestock Market (Tuesday 15th June) is as bereft of common sense as it is pregnant with consequences. This decision will fundamentally change the local economy of the area and the character of this much commended market town.

The suggestion that the arrival of a new supermarket development would enhance the town and bring new customers to the smaller independent retailers and businesses in the town is fatuous in the extreme. Local businesses provided work for local trades 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 - as small businesses also trade with each other. Local businesses also tend to be far more flexible with employees when it comes to terms and conditions and hours worked, unlike the large national chains and supermarkets.

On a more mundane political level, the not so eloquent silence on Monmouth constituency's elected Conservative representatives (to Westminster and the National Assembly) on this issue is both interesting and a matter of public record. Even David Cameron (before the Westminster election) and subsequently the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition Government has at least paid lip service to the economic and social importance of our town centres and the principles of economic sustainability.

MCC has struggled to balance the books for many years, it has suffered from a poor financial settlement, this is a situation that has clearly driven the Authority to dispose of its assets for financial gain. The harsh reality is that MCC is (as are many local authorities across Wales) far too small to be viable in terms of finances and delivery of services. Taking the long view, local residents are continuing to pay the price for the demise of Gwent.

Most people can see, with the exception of MCC and its planners; that the public, given a decent choice, are more than happy to buy local produce and to support local retailers - they don't particularly want to shop in chain dominated high streets. A successful dynamic and diverse economy has a place for the larger retailer and the supermarket chain, but, not at the expense of everything else and the destruction of our small town high streets.

Across Monmouthshire (and elsewhere in England and Wales) we have all seen ill-thought out unsympathetic redevelopments that have had a detrimental effect on the local economies in both Chepstow and Monmouth and elsewhere. The retention of the cattle market in Abergavenny presents a real opportunity to do something fundamentally different, something that should be able to address both environmental and economic concerns and contribute to the retention of the unique character of the market town that is Abergavenny.

The National Assembly Ministers, under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 have the power to call in any applications for planning permission for their own determination, something that clearly needs to be done in this specific case. While there is a tendency to consider that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities, it is pretty obvious that with regard to MCC, and the redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market this is clearly not the case, hence the need to call in this proposed development.

Planning applications can be called in when they raise issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; may give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality and are likely significantly to affect sites of scientific, nature conservation or historic interest or areas of landscape importance which covers almost every aspect of the proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny cattle market.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


The Kiwi rock band, Crowded House, have a track talks about 4 seasons in one day, David ("Call me Prime Minister") Cameron is facing a possible Tory revolt as he faces the distinct prospect of 4 U Turns in one day, a result of having to appease / keep on board the somewhat junior Liberal Dem half of the Con Dem government (Clegg Minor, etc). The increasingly battered PM has ordered a time-out on pushing reform (privatisation) within the Health Service (in England) so the views of doctors and nurses could be heard(unpalatable) not to mention a strategic withdrawal (why not call it a retreat) on Tory plans to cap state welfare handouts at £26,000 a year; along with the collapse of the plan to bring back weekly bin collections (unaffordable); and a failure to reduce in the number of foreign students which will be half the figure previously indicated (unworkable). From a right wing home counties Tory perspective things can only get better (oh no that was the other lot) or perhaps worse... either way being a fly on the wall at the next Conservative (backbench MP's) 1922 Committee would be rather interesting I suspect.

Monday, 13 June 2011


The acquisition of land by multi nationals for development or to acquire resources at the expense of local people is bound to be a touchy subject especially when little medium to long term sustainable benefit is delivered to the indigenous inhabitants. We in Wales, ironically, should know about this having been at the sharp end ourselves when it comes to the exploration our natural resources and have been largely peripheral to any benefits received.

What's happening now in Africa is subtly different, there is a race going on between multi national companies on one hand and the emerging economic giant of the Peoples Republic of China on the other hand to acquire land, not so much for the minerals (although that is a factor) but to acquire the ability to grow food. An interesting report (produced by the Oakland Institute) has noted that Hedge funds are now getting involved in acquiring land in Africa to produce food and biofuels, which will all boost their profits.

The report notes that foreign firms and hedge funds) have been quietly purchasing large chunks of land in Africa, often without any proper contracts and that this activity has led to the displacement of millions of small farmers, who are losing out as multi national firms try to secure their hold of the global food markets. Food production is often sacrificed to make space for cash crops for export, including flowers and biofuels, which fetch a tidy profit.

Since 2009 foreign firms the report notes that have acquired land equivalent to the size of France (nearly 60 million hectares) from questionable but lucrative deals with a combination of gullible traditional leaders or corrupt government officials in in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique. No doubt the foreign firms make many promises of progress, development and jobs to local chiefs, but they don't necessarily come close to delivering on the promises.

Investors benefit with a wide range of incentives written into their contracts from unlimited water rights to tax waivers, but, are clearly not there to help feed starving Africans. Sounds familiar doesn't it - not that much of step from the old days of the WDA throwing wads of cash of foreign investors, who got all sorts of benefits (grants and incentives), promised much (I seem to recall the magic figure of 6,000 jobs kept cropping up in the 1980's, 1990s and early 2000's) yet in the end never quite delivered all that was promised.

As we stand on the brink of what has been aptly described as the Age of Scarcity - a combination of peak oil, climate change and financial instability not to mention food security and fuel security, we should all take note of this developments in Africa and look closer to home when it comes to the development of secure energy and food supplies and particularly take note of the issue of ownership.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


The news earlier this week that Scottish Power are going to raise the costs of their UK gas bills by 19% and electricity bills by 10% from August 1st, should not come as any great surprise. This is merely an unsavoury aspect of the the energy cartels behaviour. They have been at it for years. Centrica (back in May 2011), which incidentally owns British Gas, warned customers that they would face higher energy bills. Centrica says that "end-user prices" do not reflect the price they are paying for gas on the wholesale market.

Back in December 2010, British Gas customers were told that they faced a 7% rise in gas and electricity bills which came into effect on 10th December. As a result of rising wholesale prices, said British Gas. oddly enough British Gas has become the second major UK energy supplier to announce price increases for the winter months - when there is a greater demand, and coincidentally a greater profit to be made.

Scottish and Southern Energy also intend to raise their domestic gas charges by 9.4% at the start of December, blaming wholesale prices for the increase in customer bills. This price increase announcement, was made just before just before they reported a 6.1% fall in pre-tax profits to £386m in the first half of the company's financial year.

Domestic energy consumers (and any other kind of consumers for that matter) are facing the sharp end of sharp practice from the energy cartel. New Labour did nothing to curb rampant excessive profiteering from the energy companies during the 13 years in was in Government. Consumers can expect little from this Tory dominated Government which continues to sacrifice the people's interests before those of a fat profit for their dubious friends in the City?

Any pre Westminster election promises to investigate the 'energy market' have been already quietly dropped in August 2010 (the height of the silly season and slap bang in the middle of parliamentary recess) no doubt with the hope that hard pressed consumers and voters would not notice...

UPDATE:  the actual narrowness of the 'energy free market' and the real limit of competition can be quite surprising - Radio 4 (during the business news section) announcing that the Con Dems are planning to 'open up' the energy market to competition (from newer smaller companies), quietly understated that the Big 6 control some 99% of the 'energy market'. Wow that's a pretty good if extreme example of monopoly capitalism / cartel-like behaviour at its worse...

Saturday, 4 June 2011


In 1899, James Marston wedged a metal bar into a crevice on Gwastedyn Hill as he tried to disturb a fox for his dog to chase. He discovered a Roman ring, bracelet and necklet from the 1st or 2nd Century. The second gold discovery was made a generation later by 17-year-old labourer John Smith as he helped to plough a field in 1954. The Bronze Age bracelets (from the National Museum in Cardiff) and Roman jewellery (from the British Museum in London) are on loan to the CARAD Rhayader Museum and Gallery. The exhibition has received a grant from Cyfoeth Cymru Gyfan (also known as the Sharing Treasures Scheme), a Welsh Government scheme to display treasures from national collections in regional museums. This is good news, but, one has to wonder how much archaeological plunder found in or from Wales can be found tucked away in the dusty draws of various museums (in Cardiff) and in London. Isn't it about time that much of this archaeological and historical plunder was returned to Wales, as we do actually have museums of our own where our own country's archaeological and historical treasures can and should be displayed?

Friday, 3 June 2011


Oddly enough I am not a constitutional anorak who gets exited by the minutiae of governance or even someone who goes out of their way to watch any of the political programmes (i.e. Question Time, Dragons Eye, The Sharp End, etc) - not because I am not interested in politics but largely because I am usually asleep by the time they come on or doing something significantly less boring.

Anyway, I digress, one of the things the Con Dems are pushing on with is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which will introduce in England and Wales directly elected Police Chiefs who "would ensure that local policing activities meet the needs of the local community, help build confidence in the system and bring communities and the police together".

Now in truth this seems to be an odd thing to get worked up about (but plenty of people have built up a head of steam over it both here and over the bridge) especially as our police forces the effects of a 35% cut to the capital budgets of the Welsh Police Authorities (between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012. Anyway, that grim statistic aside, one of the last meaningful (if barely noticed) things accomplished in the last Assembly was for this idea to be thrown out.

It turns out (and at this point the constitutional anoraks get excited) that there is a convention (similar to the Sewel Convention which exists in relation to the Scottish Parliament) which means that the UK Westminster Government, via the Welsh Government, has to seek the agreement of the Assembly (via an Legislative Compliance Motion (or LCM), if a bill which is being put forward in the Westminster Parliament seeks to make a law that could have been made by the Assembly, in plain english if it seeks to make a law in an area that has been devolved to the Assembly.

This bill seeks to replace police authorities with Police Commissioners throughout England and Wales, and also has proposals to set up joint committees of local authorities in each police area (known as Police and Crime Panels) so that said elected Police Commissioners are subject to effective scrutiny. As the National Assembly (now Welsh Government) has the power to make law to provide for local authority joint committees to be established for particular purposes, hence the reason why an LCM is needed.

As the Assembly rejected an LCM in relation to this Bill, it's now down to the UK Westminster Government to decide how to respond. Westminster Government guidance to Whitehall Departments states, in the event that an LCM is not passed by the National Assembly, ‘the UK Government would, subject to collective agreement being secured, need to table an appropriate amendment removing the relevant provisions before the Bill reaches its final stage in the House of introduction (Westminster).’

Interestingly enough this is wholly unknown or new constitutional ground as the National Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly has never previously refused to approve an LCM or its equivalent. Legally their is no reason why the Home Office cannot push on with the proposed legislation on Police and Crime Panels.

The Westminster Parliament remains supreme in relation to areas of law-making which have been devolved. Yet, if the decision is made to push on regardless with legislation on a devolved field against the wishes of a devolved legislature this would raise important issues relating to devolution not only in relation to Wales but also in relation to both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Of course the Westminster Government could always go along with the decision of the Welsh Government, duly amend its bill to retain the principle that Police Commissioners in Wales must be subject to local scrutiny, but leaving the fine detail of how scrutiny is to be carried out to Cardiff. The ball is in London's court so to speak - will we witness yet another potentially spectacular train wreck for David ("Call me Prime Minister") Cameron's failing Big Society or another quiet U-turn?

Thursday, 2 June 2011


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has that the decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 will make Germany a trailblazer in renewable energy and that the country would reap economic benefits from the move. Germany is the biggest industrial power to renounce nuclear energy, in a major policy reversal for the governing centre-right coalition.

A panel was set up to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan resulting from the earthquake and tsunami (back in March) which led to significant anti-nuclear protests across Germany. The anti-nuclear drive Green party, also took control of the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in late March. Political commentators suggest that Chancellor Merkel could even be examining the prospects of a possible coalition with the Greens.

The previous centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens coalition government decided to shut down Germany's nuclear power stations by 2021. Back in September (2010) Chancellor Merkel's coalition abandoned those plans and announced that it would extend the life of the country's nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years.This decision very unpopular in Germany well before the radioactive leaks at the Fukushima plant.

After Fukushima, Mrs Merkel promptly scrapped her extension plan, and rapidly announced a review of the German nuclear industry.Basically as a result of this review, seven of Germany's oldest reactors (which were taken off-line for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis) will never be used again. An eighth plant is already off-line and has been repeatedly plagued by technical problems will also be closed down. Six other plants will go off-line by 2021 at the latest and the three newest plants by 2022.

Germany has relied on nuclear power for 23% of its energy needs. The plan is to actually reduce electricity use by 10% over the next ten years with far more efficient machinery and buildings and also the plan is to generate home grown green energy jobs and technologies.  There will be an increase in the amount of wind generated energy and a re-orientation of Germany's electricity distribution system because much of the extra wind power would come from farms on the North Sea to replace atomic power stations in the south.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Oxfam got the publicity (with there report Growing a Better Future) which predicts that the prices of staple foods will more than double in 20 years unless world leaders take action to reform the global food system. By 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180%, the charity forecast with half of that increase being caused by climate change. Oxfam got the publicity but the World Bank flagged up the link between poverty and food prices back in April.

They noted that world food prices are 36% above levels of a year ago, made worse by problems in the Middle East and North Africa, and remain volatile, so said the World Bank. Rising food prices have pushed, it noted, 44 million people into poverty since last June (2010) and that a further 10% rise in food prices would push 10 million more people below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 (76p) a day. The World Bank says prices of basic commodities remain close to their 2008 peak, with the prices of wheat, maize and soya all rocketing. The only exception is rice, which has fallen slightly in price in the past year.

Food price changes (First Quarter 2010 to First Quarter 2011)

Maize 74%

Wheat 69%

Palm oil 55%

Soybeans 36%

Beef 30%

Rice -2%

Source: World Bank Development Prospects Group

The bank suggests a number of measures to help alleviate the impact of high food prices on the poor, including encouraging food-producing countries to ease export controls, and the diversion of production away from biofuels when food prices exceed certain limits.The World Bank has also suggested targeting social assistance and nutritional programmes to the poorest, better weather forecasting, more investments in agriculture, the adoption of new technologies (including rice fortification to make it more nutritious), and efforts to address climate change.

The fact that both the World Bank and Oxfam recognise that financial measures are needed to prevent poor countries being subject to food price volatility, is of significance, as it reveals the possibility of a perfect storm (a combination of peak oil and climate change). If that's not enough to worry about factor in increasing fuel prices (one of the consequences of Peak Oil) that will hit poor farmers first and hardest before it really hits the rest of us, just like climate change will.