Sunday, 31 July 2011


We need to spare some thoughts to ways of developing medium to long term sustainable farming practices both here in Wales and elsewhere on the planet. We are overdependent on oil based chemical fertilizers and a world trade network that is fueled by increasingly  expensive oil products.

There are plenty of people around the world who don't subscribe to or support the efforts of the European Union, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the multinationals and some governments who are busy trying to continue to globalize food production at the expense of local self sufficiency.

The concept of 'Food Sovereignty' focuses on 'national' control of food policy, and self sufficiency rather than the production of cash crops for export. More locally these efforts could focus on promoting regional and local foodstuffs and developing local markets. Opponents of  this idea have suggested that this idea hampers free trade, which in turn lowers prices and makes food more accessible to all.

In truth some countries cannot grow enough food to feed themselves so there will always be some trade in foodstuffs. The real questions that should be asked  are what kind of trade in food is taking place? Who controls it? And who benefits from it? Not to mention who does this trade in food fit into the larger picture of local and regional agriculture?

Friday, 29 July 2011


I am no fan of globalisation, never have been, it's done (and does) damage to a whole number of our communities as unscrupulous employers chase ever greater profits by searching for cheap labour. What had not crossed my mind was that globalisation does not just effect commercial business and manufacturing industry, it affects agriculture as well. The global food production system is also at risk from globalisation (and also from an end to cheap oil). Cheap oil, which is admittedly a relative concept at the moment, makes industrial agriculture and bulk international food distribution both possible and affordable and has fueled ironically a rapid loss of genetic diversity in food plants and domesticated farm animals.

Over the last 8,000 or so years humans have been very good at breeding agricultural livestock with particularly desired traits more meat, better milk yields, sheep with hooves that are more resistant to salt water, etc.The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has noted that the world loses one domestic agricultural breed a month and of the 7,600 breeds on the UN database of farm animal genetic resources some 20% are at risk of extinction.

The UNFAO has stated that the globalisation of the worlds livestock markets is the biggest single factor in driving the loss of diverse domesticated livestock. Western focused agriculture has long prised the production higher yields of meat, milk, eggs, etc. Outside of the areas - other traits have traditionally been more important in different parts of the world. Tough local breeds of cattle have been bred over centuries to cope with dry spells, to subsist of particular eco-systems, disease and erratic local weather conditions and periodic droughts.

Now the global trend is for Holstein-Freiesan cows which are literally becoming a global super breed. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have a word to say against Holstein-Friesan cattle agriculturally (as in many things) one size does not fit all, allowing the market to impose European style intensive agriculture and agricultural styles on areas like the Sahel (in Africa) and in Brazil or other parts of the globe does not suit particular soil types or agricultural; practices.

In the colonial period, consummate arrogance which dismissed local agricultural custom and practice as primitive and which led to the imposition of European farming methods in the eco-sensitive Sahel region of Africa led to disaster. Closer to home, the loss of domesticated plant and animal diversity within Europe as EU funded agriculture begins to impose unnecessary and or 'free market' driven changes on traditional agricultural practices in Poland and parts of Eastern Europe should be resisted and avoided at all costs.

The loss of diversity will limit our chances of breeding (by traditional methods) crops that are more tolerant to drought, heat, excessive rain and less dependent upon oil based fertilizers which pollute our water resources. We should know better, we have to make the right choices now, because unravelling the mess that industrial scale agriculture could (and probably will) create cost us dear in the future.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


The Roman Emperor Tiberius, discussing the raising of tax revenue from the imperial provinces said "It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them." Certainly when it comes to the current unscrupulous activities of the energy cartel members, it is pretty clear that we are all being skinned if not properly fleeced.

By now most people should be aware that British Gas owner Centrica has reported operating profits of £1.3bn in the six months to 30 June, down 19% on the same period last year. The Centrica results also include a 54% fall in operating profits at its residential energy division, British Gas, to £270m.

British Gas not surprisingly says that higher wholesale gas prices are responsible for the fall in profits. By coincidence British Gas is prepares to raise gas prices by 18% and electricity prices by 16% in August. The BBC suggests that this increase will push up the average bill for around nine million customers by £190 a year.

British Gas getting its retaliation in early has said that it has been selling gas at a loss since April due to the rising cost of gas on the wholesale markets. They also say that the core business of home gas supply British Gas has lost customers and lost market share when compared with the same period last year.

Customer accounts for gas were down 0.7% from last year and market share down 0.5%, though it picked up customers for electricity supply. Oddly though British Gas did record an increase in total customers in the same period up 159,000 to 16.1 million accounts.

Centrica (British Gas's parent company) is a major gas producer and sells gas on the wholesale market and reports increased profits from operations, which include production in the North Sea and Trinidad, which increased by 14% to £414m. British Gas is one of the 'big six' energy companies (basically an energy cartel) which control 99% of the UK energy market leaving scant opportunities for any new small energy producers - so much for the free market?

Any chance of regulation on unsavoury business practices and cartel like behaviour from the Con Dem Government - I suspect that hell might freeze over first!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


We live in interesting and fast moving times - today the Con Dem Foreign Secretary, William Hague said the UK will recognise the Libyan rebel council as the "sole governmental authority", and then promptly expelled all the Gaddafi-regimes diplomats. The Libyan charge d'affaires was summoned to the Foreign Office beforehand and told that he and other diplomats must leave.

The UK has rightly (in my opinion) asked the National Transitional Council to appoint a new diplomatic envoy. Recognition followed similar earlier moves by the US and France. Oddly enough the UK Government had previously stated that it recognised "countries not governments".

So now we have two Libya's and two Libyan governments. We have come along way very fast (diplomatically) not that long ago the former PM Tony Blair and other Western Leaders were busy snuggling up the repressive Libyan leader and his spawn.

Here's hoping that what we are seeing here is Western recognition of the wind of change that's blowing through the Arab world. 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'.

Heaven forbid that the current Libyan crisis drags on and Gaddafi continues to cling on to power in and around Tripoli. No doubt there may be calls for 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..

And if it's not asking too much while we are at it lets have a long hard impartial look at just who's been profitably tooling up the forces of repression around the globe and shine some light on the UK's at times dubious foreign policy and exactly what decisions have been and are being made on our name?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Still no firm decision on the much-delayed project to run rail services between Ebbw Vale and Newport at least until the autumn of this year, despite repeated calls from every many ordinary people and elected representatives of every political persuasion (and none).

The much delayed Network Rail feasibility study into the infrastructure needed to launch the service is still in the process of being revised and the current New Labour minister is unlikely to announce his priorities for Welsh transport projects until the autumn.

Jocelyn Davies, one of Plaid's regional AM's for South Wales East is absolutely right the Welsh Government needs to give a clear "yes, we are going to do it’ or ‘no we are not’.

Personally I suspect that the faffing about before the last election was only a reflection of how low Welsh priorities had sunk in the eyes of Network Rail and the Department of Transport before the referendum, which at least gave a measure of further control and some law making powers to the National Assembly.

Now we are in wholly new territory, we are somewhere different, the current delay is down to a combination of the New Labour Government in Cardiff's inability or marked reluctance to make any decision either way.

Monday, 25 July 2011


The decision of the national assembly's enterprise and business committee to study the impact of out of town retail parks, and ask whether enough is being done to help local communities and businesses, should be welcomed. With our local retail sectors were already struggling before the triple whammy of inflation, job insecurity and public spending cuts. The economic fate of our small towns and their regeneration should be a prime focus of the national assembly.

The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales (FSB) has already called for national assembly ministers to draw up a retail strategy to support traders. They, quite rightly, want supermarket schemes to include a study on their effect on local stores and for shopping developments to subsidise space for smaller outlets.

As I have said previously we are in dire need of 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. People have now recognised that economic and social problems in our communities are increasing; and the historic Government indifference to local economies and local economic needs cannot be allowed to continue.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has previously 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.
Over recent years in the small towns, that once rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our nation's high streets” rapidly eliminating any real choice from our town centres.

A cynic might wonder if the London based parties close financial relationship with some of the developers (UK wide and more locally) might have had an impact? Over the last twenty five years retail developments have consistently undermined our small towns economic cohesion and vitality, local authorities have either effectively turned a blind eye to the consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments on the edge of market towns in England and Wales, or even colluded with the developers.

Despite the mistakes of the recent past, it’s not too late, with the abolition of the business rate for small businesses, better thought out more long term economic redevelopment plans and a change in attitude towards our small businesses, local suppliers it is possible to support our small town centres which should be making a significant contribution to our economy. The first step towards fixing this problem is to stop repeating the ill-thought out mistakes of the past, especially when it comes to planning and economic redevelopment.

Every Government since the 1980’s has talked the talk about promoting the vitality and viability of our small market towns, when in even the Conservatives under Mrs. Thatcher recognised the problem, but, did next to nothing to prevent the damage being done to our towns. I and more than a few people expect better from the National Assembly and will follow the proceedings of the national assembly enterprise and business committee with a keen interest.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


We are all far too used to members of the energy cartel repeatedly raising their domestic customers bills, no doubt to help deliver a healthy profit and a healthy dividend to the shareholders. The latest was Scottish and Southern Energy (21st July) who were the latest gas and electricity supplier to announce a rise in prices.

Their domestic household electricity bills are set to go up by an average increase of 11%, and its household gas bills by an average 18%, from 14th September 2011. British Gas earlier in July also announced that the cost of its electricity and gas will go up from 18th August.

Members of the energy cartel are naturally blaming a 30% increase in wholesale energy prices. Scottish Power which is one of the big six announced price rises in June, with the cost of its gas going up by 19% from the start of next month, and its electricity rising by 10%.

The component parts of the Con Dem Government talked tough before the Westminster general election but just like it New Labour predecessor (in thirteen years of significant majority government) are set to do nothing to investigate or regulate the questionable activities of the energy cartel members.

"We are proud that we took the industry into public ownership. When we come to power, it will be reinstated as a public service for the people of this county and will not run for private profit."  

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, nope - Tony Blair (House of Commons 12th December 1988) - and people wonder why we all get cynical?

Saturday, 23 July 2011


The news that the the South Sebastopol plan, which has faced strong local opposition, with concern over traffic, wildlife and the loss of green space has been rejected is to be welcomed. Torfaen Councillors voted to refuse the plans at an extraordinary and somewhat heated meeting on Thursday. Torfaen council had originally agreed to grant planning permission in 2004, subject to a legal agreement on environmental safeguards.

The vote to refuse the development will hopefully be duly ratified by a meeting of the full council in September. The desire to build on the last remaining 'green space' between Cwmbran and Pontypool is not new,  original proposals to build the large housing estate provoked significant outcry when originally unveiled in the mid 1990s.

The pressure group “Fight the Plan” was formed in 1996 with the aim of stopping the development. No doubt the council officers will be unhappy, no doubt the developer will appeal, but lets hope that Torfaen council actually supports the decision to throw out this planning application.

In the south east, along the coastal belt around Newport and in and around Torfaen, the last twenty years has seen a spectacular growth in the amount of housing, a significant percentage of which has never been aimed at fulfilling local housing needs.

As a result the infrastructure along the coastal belt between Chepstow, Caldicot, Rogiet and Magor is struggling to cope with existing developments and this is well before the projected expansion of housing on and around the former Llanwern site. The north of Newport has now been linked effectively to the south Cwmbran - something that has brought little material benefit to either urban area.

As I have said before, 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 longer 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. It is worth noting that Wales only has one notional green belt, and that lies between Cardiff and Newport, Scotland has seven and Northern Ireland has 30 - each has its own policy guidance. it is important to note that once the Green belt or Green wedge is gone it is gone for ever, we cannot restore it.

Friday, 22 July 2011


The Newport Slang Translator 
The University of Wales, Newport has launched its first mobile app, across a variety of platforms including iPhone and Android.

The Newport Slang Translator is a tongue in cheek look at some of the words and phrases that students from outside the area may experience when living in Newport.

The application allows users to search and browse a list of important and sometimes bizarre Newport phrases in native accents with Queen’s English translations. It is an affectionate look at Wenglish phrases from around the region.

The app can be downloaded for free on the iPhone and on Android. Either search 'Newport Slang' or use the following links:

iPhone App Store

Android Market

The University is also encouraging the community to suggest local phrases that they might like to see included in the next update for the Newport Slang Translator by visiting the website at  and the University is also now looking at developing more applications for current and prospective students and for Alumni and supporters of the University.

There are plans to update the app and the University would like suggestions for new phrases!

Please get in touch via the University Facebook page or Twitter @newportuni #newportslang.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Richard Parks on Mount Elbrus summit
Richard Parks (the ex former Newport Gwent Dragon) is back after concluding his world-record-breaking aim (the 737 Challenge) which involved reaching seven summits and three poles in seven months. From the Antarctic to the Arctic and up Mount Everest, Richard Parks endured serious frostbite not to mention a dangerous fall into a crevasse.

He successfully reached the North and South Poles, climbed to the summits of Kilimanjaro (Africa), Everest (Asia), Vinson (Antarctica), Aconcagua (South America), Carstensz Pyramid (Australia), Denali (North America) and Elbrus (Europe) in six months, 11 days, seven hours and 53 minutes.

And all to raise funds for charity, we can still make donations. If you would like to donate to the cause, or find out more about Richard Parks’ record breaking challenge, can visit to find links to the donation page and details on his challenge.

Or cheques can be made payable to the 737 Trust and posted to:

737 Trust
34 Ridgeway
NP20 5AG.

For more information about the charity and what it does, visit

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


There may be more blood in the water as the Murdoch / News International / News Corp contagion continues to spread through 'fleet street' and the Metropolitan Police Service. There is a need for full disclosure and a whole raft of public enquires. The law must be enforced and it that means some spells in prison,  financial penalties and the end of some careers - then so be it. As an aside to the main event, unless David ("Please call me Prime Minister") Cameron gets a grip on this and backs full disclosure then he will be...

David Cameron

Monday, 18 July 2011


Some two years ago what was then the New Labour Government stepped in to take over a failing private rail franchise (the East Coast Rail Service), when National Express (who also currently run the Stanstead Express, East Anglia and c2c) effectively walked away from running the East Coast Service (which it operated as stand alone company, NXEC) and carried on running those bits of the network that it could squeeze a profit out of at our expense. Here we are some two years down the line MPs have criticised the Department for Transport (DfT) for letting National Express "terminate its East Coast rail franchise in 2009 with next to no penalty.

Apparently the DfT rejected an offer of £150m from the company to quit the loss-making franchise by mutual consent. The DfT then terminated the contract, and received £120m from the company. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report noted that the DfT judged giving up the extra cash would reduce the risk of other companies with loss-making franchises seeking similar deals. And also noted that the DfT "undermined its position" by telling National Express any future franchise bids would be unaffected.

This unhappy saga should by now have confirmed in most people minds that rail privasation (something that New Labour publicly stated they would have undertaken if it had not already been done by the Conservatives) has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster. While going back to British Rail may not be an option, now is clearly the time to implement Plaid's idea of rail franchises being run on a not for profit basis, reinvesting their profits in their services and infrastructure rather than merely squeezing profits for the shareholders at our expense.

Sunday, 17 July 2011


Whilst driving through the middle of Wales, dodging traffic for the Royal Welsh Show, I was trying to listen to the World at One (Radio 4) on in intermittent signal (due to a combination of geography, topography and rain) which was outlining the current situation / revelations in relation to the News of the World, News International and the Metropolitan Police. The more that comes out the worse it gets, what a tangled web of alleged questionable behaviour. One thing that is becoming much clearer in my mind is the realisation the the Metropolitan Police Service if only from a practical point of view is entirely unfit to run the enquiry into alleged corruption within its own ranks. I think that it's time for the Home Secretary to get a grip and draft in a Scottish Police Force to investigate whatever has been going on within the Metropolitan Police Service, before things get even more complicated than they already are and what few shreds of credibility are entirely blown away.

Friday, 15 July 2011


It's official, more than a fifth of all households in the UK were affected by fuel poverty in 2009, so says the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Repeated increase in fuel bills mean that the number of homes affected rose by one million, or 22%, to 5.5 million. The government defines fuel poverty as being when a household is has to spend more than 10% of its income keeping warm.

DECC noted that "between 2004 and 2009, energy prices increased: domestic electricity prices increased by over 75%, while gas prices increased by over 122% over the same period" and this led to the rise in fuel poverty. They (DECC) also predict that the numbers for 2010 and 2011 will have increased because of further rises in the price of energy.

Apparently the answer is more competition and the free market... Hmm...isn't that what we have all been living with (and paying for) over the last twenty plus years. An unregulated 'free market' or more accurately an largely unregulated privatised effective monopoly has clearly not worked. Surely to continue to repeat the mistakes of the past is a bad idea to say the least...or is HMG too busy thinking about windfall taxes on excessive profits...

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Here in Wales, we have over the years suffered from the loss of jobs overseas, as unscrupulous employers have (chasing higher profits by squeezing wages) moved their business overseas in search of cheaper labour leaving some of our more vulnerable communities up against it after years of loyal service. One thing that may change this unhappy state of affairs is the fact that as oil prices rise distance costs money.

This simple fact could have a significant impact on our country's economy as increased fuel costs will impact on company profits and indirectly provide an opportunity to revitalise our economy. Trade patterns change constantly, they will be altered by increased transportation costs, which will bite deeply into profits made by finding cheap labour in distant lands.

It is worth sparing some thought as to how we got to where we are; between 1960 and 1973 the percentage of exports as a share of world GDP rose by over 50%. This can be partially put down to to a combination of relatively cheap fuel (oil was around $14 dollars a barrel during this period) and an aggressive effort by the West to reduce trade barriers around the world.

Even factoring the effects of the 1973 oil crisis and the (with retrospect) the somewhat heated final lingering spasm of the cold war in the late 1970's/1980's there was a spectacular growth in world trade and further removal of tariff barriers between 1987 and 2002, when the average price of oil remained around $25 dollars a barrel.

It is worth noting (largely unnoticed in Europe where where we had our our problems) that the oil crisis of 1973/74 increased five fold the cost of shipping goods across the Atlantic and the Pacific and led to a 6% drop in US non fuel related imports and a corresponding growth in imports from Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention this because we have all lived with the rise in fuel prices over the last few years, there has also been a corresponding rise in shipping costs, something that will make manufacturing in distant lands increasingly uneconomic.

Over the last twenty years container ships have got bigger, they spend more time at sea than in port (85% in 2009 as compared with 55% some 15 years previously). The average container ship has also grown considerably larger along with the amount of goods carried by container has also grown from 35% to 75%. They have also become considerably faster something that has led to greater fuel consumption, which when combined with rising fuel prices begins to eat into profit margins of companies and organisations that relocated their manufacturing enterprises to distant lands.

Any economist will tell you that there is a direct link between transport costs and the price of the goods that we buy. The increase in oil prices between 2002 and 2009 roughly from £30 dollars a barrel to over $100 dollars a barrel increased the shipping companies costs and reduced the profits of their customers. The daily fuel bill for an average cargo ship increased from $9,500 dollars to $32,000 dollars and import costs (for the USA) rose on a standard 40 foot container travelling across the Pacific from China to the USA from $455 dollars to $1,100 dollars (between January 2007 and the end of 2008).

Despite a relative drop in fuel prices since the recession triggered by the World banking crisis we face a result of the consequences of peak oil in the near future a radical change in the way the world trades. There is a distinct possibility that it may become cheaper to manufacture goods closer to the market place rather than in more distant lands - the future energy and food crisis's aside for the moment - the real question that needs to be asked and answered is how we in Wales can take advantage of this situation and reboot our manufacturing economy in a sustainable way?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Newport County AFC in action last season
I warmly welcome the news that Newport County will play in this seasons Welsh Cup after they accepted an invitation from the FAW to play in the Welsh Cup. County, Wrecsam and Merthyr Town have signed up, but, sadly Colwyn Bay, Cardiff City and Swansea City have foolishly in my opinion declined their invite. Historically Newport County have played in 3 Welsh Cup finals and won the cup in 1980 beating Shrewsbury Town over two legs in the final.European glory followed with games against Crusaders and Haugar followed by an epic couple of games against Carls Zeis Jena in 90/91. Newport County finished as runners-up twice (the last time was in 1987). County have not played in the competition since the 1991/92 season when they were forced into exile following their refusal to join the newly formed League of Wales. The 12 Welsh Premier League clubs, as well as County and Wrecsam, have all received byes into round three, Merthyr go in in round two. Bring it on!

Monday, 11 July 2011


Standing on the edge of the age of scarcity as we are, it seems only fair and reasonable that Wales’s natural resources should be controlled by and developed for the Welsh people. The Crown Estate with its urban, rural and marine holdings across the UK, including the seabed and large areas of land, stands to profit from renewable energy developments and off-shore dredging.

South Wales
News that the Crown Estate announced a 9% increase in its profits in the last financial year despite the wider economy barely growing across the UK, merely adds a degree of urgency. The Crown Estate in Wales is important, not as a profit making body, but because they own much of the land and sea-waters which could be exploited to make a profit for the Welsh people.

The seabed around Wales should be used to develop tidal energy and other renewable energy sources, as well as large parts of land in Wales for the benefit of the Welsh people. Offshore in 09/10 in the UK, the Crown Estates made £15.5m from dredging activities, £14.3m from coastal activities, £11.5m from cables and pipelines and a further £3.5m from renewable resources. UK wide the Crown Estate has nearly £600m of offshore property.

It is not unreasonable to call for the land and energy resources of Wales to be used to benefit the Welsh people. Wales has real opportunities here to be a world leader when it comes to developing renewable energy, something that could create thousands of sustainable jobs, make money through research and development which should be re-invested in our economy for future years.

North East Wales
Unfortunately when it came to resource ownership (and so many other things) this kind of forward thinking is something which New Labour did little to develop or encourage when it was in Government in Westminster for 13 out of the last 14 years. Once again New Labour (in Wales) has yet again let our country fall behind – so much for standing up for Wales!

Much has been made about the development of on-shore alternatives to oil, which in the UK include oil shale, the extraction of methane gas, and gas fracturing, the development of which may have significant environmental impact on our communities and our country. Experience from Canada goes to show not just the environmental impact of tar sands extraction but the energy and resource impact as well.

There is no cure to oil depletion; simply using what we have left more efficiently won't help us in the long term, merely delay the inevitable. The bottom line is that we are all too dependent on high levels of energy consumption; we have to consume less and fundamentally change the nature of our energy supply. To be plain and simple it's both plan for and transform our energy supplies with renewable or lights out!

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Perhaps they thought is was a good day to bury bad news, what with the News of the World / News Corp scandal raging to quietly announce yet another rise their prices and boost their profits. News that British Gas have decided to increase their profits by increasing their domestic customers bills should not shock us. The members of the energy cartel have long put the dividend and their profit in advance of any fears of putting people into fuel poverty. That's the price we all pay for the alleged 'free market' in energy supply.

For the record:
  • Scottish Power will raise their gas prices from August 2011 by 19% (electricity prices will rise by 10%
  • EDF (who incidentally owe the French Government some 44 billion euros) raised their gas prices by 6.5% and their electricity prices by 7.5% in March 2011
  • NPower raised their gas prices by 6.5%  and their electricity prices by 5.1% in January 2011
  • Scottish and Southern raised their gas prices by 9.4% in December 2010
Some 9 million British Gas customers will see their gas bills rise by some 18% next month - they will also face a 16% (on average) rise in the cost of their electricity. They (British Gas) even admitted that there was little point in people trying to change suppliers as the other members of the energy cartel are likely to raise their prices as well.

With some customers facing a 24% rise in their gas prices, many will face a rise of nearly £190 in their annual dual fuel bills. With according to some 6.3 million households across the UK in fuel poverty this is not good news. With a painfully weak Con Dem Government on Westminster who dropped any ideas of investigating the energy market last year what hope have the ordinary energy consumers have of fair energy prices? None as far as I can see...

Friday, 8 July 2011


The sadly painfully short demise of the News of the World (soon no doubt to be replaced by the Sun On Sunday (coincidently both and were registered a few days ago) within a few months) has little to do with bringing any measure of comfort to those ordinary decent people (Celebs to one side for the moment) who have had their lives violated for the sake of tabloid headlines. It has everything to do with the Dirty Digger's desire to gain complete control of BSKYB and perhaps a little to do with the fall in the value of News Corp's share price.

I have to be brutally honest, personally I am not interested in the petty unimportant lives of celebrities or who or what they are sleeping with - as far as I am concerned they can sleep with consenting domestic livestock or even consenting hedgehogs - I honestly don't care! That aside as far as I am aware the pretty public breaking the Telecommunications Acts and the payment of money to police officers for information remain criminal offences.

Celebs aside, the final straw in the whole sorry business for most reasonable people's was no doubt the revelation that some tabloid journalists had been hacking the voice mails of murder victims (and their families), the victims (and their relatives) of the 7/7 terrorist atrocities and the widows and family members of service personal killed on active service in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) if that was not enough to make most people wonder what moral cesspit the journalists inhabited then nothing else would (a rough estimate suggests that there could be at least 4,000 hacking victims). No wonder a host of advertisers pulled their adds from the News of the World and various organisations from Mums Net to the British Legion began severing their connections with the Murdoch media empire.

More than a few serious issues have emerged - the fact that for the last twenty years some tabloid journalists no doubt encouraged by their editors have run riot and certainly broken various Telecommunications Act's is one key issue, the fact that Press self regulation has proved to be almost worthless along with the Press Complaints Commission which has proved to be almost entirely toothless. The exposure of the scale of the hacking of voice mails which in itself is serious and which also may have directly or indirectly interfered with serious police investigations (including murder enquiries) is worth of serious police investigation to say the least (not to mention a full and extensive public enquiry).

The spotlight light also needs to be shone on the relationship (commercial or otherwise) between the press and the police, especially as it appears that money may have changed hands for information. While we are at it the relationship between police press and communication staff and the press is also worth investigation as I colleague said to me 'let me know how that one goes!'Here I think in the interests of transparency it would be worth bringing in a Scottish Judge and a Scottish Police Force to investigate the admissions made by the now almost defunct News of the World. Why this has not been seriously investigated previously is one question that needs to be asked, especially as Rebekah Brooks admitted to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in April 2003 that police officers had been paid for information.

David Cameron and friend (Photo: Dafydd Jones)
What's also been exposed is David Cameron's judgement not to mention his choice of friends, spin doctors (Andy Coulson) and his fairly limited social circle (the Chipping Norton set), even the Daily Telegraph has in this case correctly questioned his judgement:

"In the careers of all prime ministers there comes a turning point. He or she makes a fatal mistake from which there is no ultimate recovery. With Tony Blair it was the Iraq war and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. With John Major it was Black Wednesday and sterling’s eviction from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. With Harold Wilson, the pound’s devaluation in 1967 wrecked his reputation. Each time the pattern is strikingly similar. Before, there is a new leader with dynamism, integrity and carrying the faith of the nation. Afterwards, the prime minister can stagger on for years, but as increasingly damaged goods: never is it glad, confident morning again."

The relationship between News Corp and the Politicians has also been exposed (and the desperate desire on the part of those who want to obtain or retain power) and the length to which they will go to appease News Corp (it is worth remembering that Blair flew half-way around the world to get the Dirty Digger on board) and this is no bad thing. Although incidentally at the last Westminster General Election the Sun certainly did not win it for Cameron or entirely batter fading New Labour into complete electoral oblivion.

David Cameron's links in employing ex-News International staff such as Andy Coulson and his friendship with other high ranking officials in the company needs investigation. There is a need for an explanation of how David Cameron came to hire Mr Coulson (a then employee of News Corp), not to mention what checks were made, and what advice was taken before the appointment. They raise a fair point when asking for a check-list of those no longer so innocent social meetings with Rebekah Brooks (an employee of News Corp).

So far Downing Street has been more than a little reticent about Mr Cameron's meetings with Rupert Murdoch (owner of News Corp) who is thought to be one of the very first visitors that Cameron received once he emerged as Prime Minister. All these things have a different context because of the Dirty Digger's attempts to secure monopoly control over the British media by purchasing the remaining 61% of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB that he does not yet own.

No doubt there will be much continued speculation on the survival time of Rebekah Brooks the former editor of the News of the World and the Sun and currently chief executive of News International - it was she who edited the newspaper during some of its most controversial years and who must surely by now have moved from being an asset to that of a liability for News Corp. Yesterday we all saw the sacrifice of the the News of the World and its staff at the News of the World - possibly in a desperate effort to save the BSKYB deal and also Rebekah Brooks. Never have so many been sacrificed to save so few is one phrase that comes to mind.

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson (Photo: BBC)

Before we get too carried away some words of caution, we must be very warry of over regulation (or over regulation) of the press as the forth estate serves a useful purpose as does investigative journalism, while no doubt some of those MPS who were caught with their hands in the till may think otherwise. The News of the World is now doubt merely on of the more prominent tabloids and its spectacular misdemeanour's (and ultimate demise). Not all newspapers are the same as the News of the World - we need a vigorous free press. We should remember that there is a world of difference between honest investigative journalism and the world of illegality and sleaze that has grown up (and been encouraged by editors and sub-editors) amongst certain sections of the tabloid press.

One final thought, one thing is certain New Labour's almost joyful attacks on Cameron (and News Corp) should be taken with a significant pinch of salt as it was New Labour spin that laid the groundwork for the war Iraq and sent too many of our service personnel to their untimely deaths. This has been going on for over twenty years politicians of all parties were desperate for coverage in the tabloids, promises were made blind eyes turned in return for tabloid support in election campaigns. The police looked the over way for similar media coverage of investigations (or for cash) and all of this gave a degree of entirely unacceptable protection from the law to the tabloid press.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


The news that Llangattock Green Valleys project won the Welsh final of the British Gas challenge in 2009, and also won the UK title as well is good news. It shows what's possible and what can be done when people have ownership of a local community beneficial project. Winning means that Llangattock (Powys) has won £100,000 to spend on a local environmental project.The village was chosen from 100 projects across the UK to be one of the final 14 communities who would go head-to-head over 14 months as part of the Green Streets challenge, a project which helps communities not just to save energy but to actually generate their own energy. Combinations of solar panels and 100 radiator panels were installed at the village school, along with an source heat pump to the village hall, and 43 homes in Llangattock installed 655 energy efficiency measures including insulation, solar panels, a biomass boiler, multi-fuel stoves and new boilers. As a result the community is expected to save £62,000 over five years and nearly 200 tonnes of CO2. All in all that's actually pretty impressive and is literally case of power to the people!

Monday, 4 July 2011


You don't have to dig too deep (if at all) to find the less than hidden Conservatives lifted Republican (US) not quite progressive sub-text that sits (still wrapped in watered down right wing republican (US) anti big government rhetoric) behind this Conservative driven right wing coalition government. Cameron's Con Dem's have the Cabinet Office's Red Tape Challenge which was relatively quietly launched in April (2011) which is an on-line only process of asking members of the public (well motivated or not) of re-considering a whole lot of regulations (which give teeth to most laws) and thereby telling the Con Dem's which work and which don't - with the dangled carrot being that the 'burdensome regulations' (laws) will go!

Now don't get me wrong I am no great fan of obsessive and overburdening Governance, but, there is more to this than first meets the eye. One of the pieces of legislation (sorry regulations) that has been 'flagged up' is the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoWA) which was passed some ten years ago (and effects Wales and England) and gave access rights (basically the right to roam) to thousands of acres of formerly out of bounds lands to walkers and members of the public. It is (somewhat ironically) difficult to remember how little access people had (even within our National Parks) before CRoWA was passed. The legislation resulted in an increase in the amount of land with statutory permanent access in Snowdonia increased by some 620% and in the Brecon Beacons by some 1,565%.

Obviously that old traditional reactionary (if nearly spun out of sight) streak in the Conservatives would love to repeal this (and no doubt other socially useful) legislation, but the Conservatives (and their Liberal Democrat little helpers) dare not do so openly for fear of electoral damage at the hands of the voters. When the original Act was passed there were some well organised mutterings from some (but by no means all) landowners who did not want people wandering over their land (and no doubt disturbing their game). A number of concerned walking groups are now concerned that there may be concerted attempt from some landowners (and their supporters) to weaken or undermine the CRoW Act, thus enabling the Con Dem's to repeal sections of regulations and re-restrict public access.

If my (and other peoples) interpretation of the way the Red Tape Challenge works is correct then if enough people object too (or flag up enough objections) to specific regulations then they may get specific regulations repealed and any legislation will either be weakened or undermined and become untenable. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said that this is not the case: 'Defra is committed to enhancing the natural environment and there are no plans to remove important environmental protections' - I won't hold my breath on that one!

CRoWA significantly eased access to many parts of Wales for all of us, with the exception of our rivers (here talk to any canoeist and they will tell you at length how restricted access to our rivers actually is in the 21st century). Rivers aside for another day, what worries me is whether or not the near inert Labour government in Cardiff Bay will even notice any of these potential developments, which could have an impact on walker and tourist generated incomes across the whole of Wales. Nominally at least the spotlight is on health and safety, pensions, equalities, company law, employment related law and environmental legislation, the website is open for comment until September 1st 2011 - so don't say that you have not been warned!

Sunday, 3 July 2011


When it comes to developing (or devolving) energy resources there is always a price, either paid for by the indigenous inhabitants (i.e. us) and / or by the environment. The snipping between Westminster and Cardiff Bay over the 50 MW rule is only a symptom of a greater problem - our ever increasing need for and our dependency on the energy we need to make our society function. The extraction of oil form the tars sands of Alberta, the extraction of fractured gas (from under parts of the south of Wales) or the construction of wind farms (largely run by and for the profits of companies based out side of Wales) all comes with a price that someone (often local people) end up paying.

Some of these potential energy resources are costly in a variety of ways, not just environmentally - if the basic rule of thumb (even with relatively high prices per barrel in the case of oil) is one unit of energy in for the ten units of energy out - then some of the prosed developments and their returns are marginal at best. In the case of tar sands to extract one barrel of oil, you need to burn 1,400 cubic feet (US) of natural gas, to polluter 250 gallons (US) of fresh water (and then store or clean the polluted water) and emit over 220 pounds (US) of carbon dioxide. Incidentally (and just for the record) in 2009/2010 the USA used some 19 million barrels of oil per day.

The environmental price for fractured gas is equally grim, and if this goes a head we will all get to live with the residual environmental pollution for years and years afterwards and see scant medium to long term benefits and get parts of our country and some of our communities trashed as part of the process. The palpable anger in parts of Mid Wales over the development of Wind farms and the electricity grid to carry the energy away is only the start - this row is going to rumble on, the reason I say this is that fundamentally the decisions about developing energy resources in Wales are being made in Westminster and fundamentally the development to communities across the length and breadth of Wales.

Glyn Davies, the much respected Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire (and former AM) has somewhat honestly said that his constituents should target their protests at Westminster rather than Cardiff Bay, which if nothing else is a backhanded and belated recognition of the fact that decision making over energy development and energy policy is made outside of Wales. Basically its not for us (the Welsh People) to decide or to benefit form decision made outside of Wales, but, we will have to live day in day out with the consequences - that state of affairs is something the voters of Montgomery and the voters of Bridgend may come to regret along with the rest of us.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


A Shelter Cymru survey states that 21% of respondents were spending less on heating, and 28% had cut back on food to meet rent or mortgage payments (The survey of 1,000 + Welsh adults Shelter Cymru was carried out by YouGov at the beginning of June). The charity said the core problem was a lack of affordable homes. Despite this nominal First Minister Carwyn Jones has blamed the rise in Welsh homelessness in the last year on UK government cuts. It's also worth noting that this Labour Government in Cardiff has actually set no target to build affordable homes, and appears to have abandoned the excellent work carried out by Jocelyn Davies AM (who was previously the Minster for Housing).

This period of phoney (if not inert) governance is actually sadly somewhat ironic, as during the last Welsh General election campaign, Labour made a great deal of it's promise to deliver for Wales. We are now about two months into a new Assembly term and so far there has been no progress, no wonder people are beginning to wonder what this government is actually doing? It's almost like Carwyn's Labour Government is literally trapped between not knowing what they want to do and not knowing how to do it. What a waste of time, space and effort? How long until we get a real government?

Friday, 1 July 2011


There is a bit of a spat (or a row rumbling on) between Cardiff and Westminster in relation to energy and decision making. Carwyn (Jones) is busy standing up for Wales - possibly with a few choice asides or stage whispers? Odd that, especially as the Wales Office Minister David Jones informed Westminster MPs (on the 29th June) that the UK Westminster Government had received no formal request to devolve the power to decide large energy projects from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. Apparently the First Minister may have raised the matter of devolving energy consents directly with the UK Government, on three separate specific occasions since the Welsh General election in May.Odd that the or his predecessors never quite managed to raise their voice once during the 13 years of alleged joined up Labour Government? I am sure that Peter (Hain) would have been able to help? Or perhaps not?