Tuesday, 31 May 2011

THE URGENT QUESTION?

Lindsay Whittle AM
Plaid Cymru AM for the South East, Lindsay Whittle, has described the loss of 150 jobs at the Identity and Passport service offices in Newport as a bitter blow for the city. Speaking after he raised an Urgent Question in the Senedd, Mr Whittle challenged the First Minister on what action he is taking to mitigate the effects of the job losses on the people of Newport.

Plaid Cymru’s Lindsay Whittle AM said:

Such large numbers of jobs lost are a bitter blow for Newport and the surrounding areas. While the Tories and Lib Dems seem to think we should be grateful that more people haven't lost their jobs, the new Labour Welsh government must now act to help those people who will be out of work and to help Newport. The new Labour Welsh government should be proactive as the Scottish and Northern Irish governments are being in order to secure new funding from the UK government in order to invest in our communities. It appears that the new Labour Welsh government is last to the table here and the people of Wales have a right to ask why.

Monday, 30 May 2011

CRYING OVER SPILT MILK

Successive UK Governments (both Conservative and Labour) have failed to take any meaningful action to help our dairy farmers. Why? Well the cynic or the realist (in me) suspects that this is either down to a combination of nice financial inducements from large Supermarkets and / or a general indifference to the agricultural sector. We, as consumers also have to take a share of the blame because we allowed all of these things to happen, if we want quality milk and dairy products (that are produce from UK milk) then we will have to change the way we buy, if we do that then out farmers will get a better deal.

It's worth noting that the number of dairy farmers in Wales dropped by a third in five years (up to December 2009) and this despite repeated warnings that more needed to be done to save the industry along with the fact that our farmers are also not getting a fair price for the milk they produce, when compared to the price charged by retailers to consumers, will sadly not come as much of a surprise to most people.

There was even prior to the last Westminster General election some talk of a milk ombudsman, but it needs to be more than talk, there is a need for action, before our dairy farmers (and our farmers) are driven out of business entirely. What may follow if nothing is done may not be pretty, it may be semi industrial and serviced by cheap migrant Labour. Supermarkets as well as their bought tame politicos in the Westminster village (is that too harsh? No probably not) have to take a share of the blame for aggressively pursuing ever greater shares of the profit.

When considering the price of a pint of milk there are a few things we should all know. One litre carton of full-fat, non-organic milk can cost between 70-80p (January 2010 figures). From this a farmer will get between 21p and 28p. Production costs come in at around 28p. In the last 10 years two thirds of dairy farmers in England and Wales have gone out of business, and it has been estimated that one dairy farmer leaves the industry every day. While these may be old figures, the situation has not got any easier for the farmers or the consumers, they more than illustrate the problem facing our farmers, especially as we now have to factor in increased transport costs.

The shelf price for four pints has remained static at £1.25 for 4 pints since February 2011, and widespread promotions continue to be offered on liquid milk in May with Sainsburys and Asda offering 2 x 4 pints for £2.00 and Tesco offering 3 x 4 pints for £3.00. Supermarkets are also widely offering branded and organic milk on promotion in May.

DEFRA's annual data shows that the UK farm gate price has increased by 0.95 pence per litre (4.0%) to 24.66 pence per litre in 2010. In UK, there was a 0.22 pence per litre (0.9%) increase from the 2009 average, to 24.60 pence per litre in 2010. The average NI price stood at 19.48 pence per litre in 2009, but there was a 5.56 pence per litre (28.5%) increase in the average price in 2010, resulting in a 2010 price of 25.04 pence per litre.

The old answer to low milk prices or a surplus was to turn excess milk into other dairy products, with dairies producing other valuable products like butter, cream, cheese and yoghurt's. How many local Welsh dairies serving our urban centres that are still in business can you name? Milk aside, diary products can be big business. A 25 pence litre of milk can end up as something that sells for 15 times as much, people pay good money for ‘health yogurt’ – which with the addition of bacteria, flavouring and a marketing campaign produce healthy profits for the companies that produce them.

It is worth noting that some 40 per cent of our yogurt is made in France and Belgium, in 2009 more than 40 per cent of all Cheddar sold in the UK was actually produced outside of the UK. Its not just yogurt and cheese; it's a similar story with butter. Only one of the most popular supermarket brands [Country Life] is actually from UK milk. The bulk of our butter comes from Denmark and Ireland, and this is despite the fact that farm gate prices for milk remain consistently higher in Europe than here in the UK.

We (in the UK) when compared with 11 years ago now import nearly half our butter from abroad, cheese imports are also up, some 60 percent over the last ten years. In the UK we are importing those products that have added-value and are busy exporting the low-value milk products which are then turned into butter, yogurt, etc and sold back to us. This is madness; this is what happens in the Third World, where countries export their raw commodities cheaply and then have little choice but to buy back the manufactured products that are made from their own raw materials.

The NFU has suggested, and they should know, that the UK is in the process of losing a critical mass of milk suppliers and that we are no longer in a position where we supply the UK's “core milk requirement” which is around some 13 billion litres per year (2010 figures). In 2009 / 2010 year there was a 15 percent drop in UK Milk prices. In the last 10 years (up to 2010) the Supermarkets’ margins that is the the amount of the price they take on milk have doubled.

Now with a trend for both the processor and retailer to be the same, we have a situation where they take over three quarters of the price of a pint. We have now reached the situation where in a land renowned for Dairy farming and where even though the price of our milk is cheap, we are now become a net importer of milk.

Ironically it was a development of railway communications during the industrial revolution that provided the means to speedily deliver the farmers milk to our towns and cities and ironically as a knock on effect there was a spread of diary production. It is doubly ironic that the first supermarkets (ironically in Sainsbury’s in Covent Garden, London, in 1869) sold what was then called “railway milk” from churns. The milkman arrived next delivering direct to our doorsteps, his near demise followed some years later was a direct result of super market price-cutting which has now, more or less, effectively killed him off.

The UK Government as early as 1914 recognised that milk was important for nutrition in children, that it helped prevent rickets, and provided vitamins. And so the first government attempts to regulate milk's supply and quality came about. Pasteurization was duly brought in to kill of certain bacteria. We now have low fat milk, slimmed milk, semi skimmed milk, etc – one thing to think about is that full fat milk is only 4 percent fat, low fat milk being 2 percent (or less) and that milk is approximately 95 percent water anyway.

During the good times, pre Mrs Thatcher, the banks fell over themselves throwing credit at framers to encourage them to (as the Government and the EU wanted) to ever expand their production. Once Mrs T (and the Conservatives) who was never interested in farming anyway, being far to enamoured of dodgy money men in the City, allowed Milk quota's (effective cuts) the bad times had begun for our Dairy farmers and oddly enough the banks stopped calling with offers of cheap credit.

What can best be described as industrial milk production is not without its problems – slurry production being one of them, which can be enormously toxic and environmentally damaging. Something else to consider is that modern cows to produce large amounts of cheap milk, a While a modern Frisian may produce as much 4 times as much milk as equivalent cows did 50 years it only has three milking years in which to do it.

We, as consumers also have to take a share of the blame because we allowed all of these things to happen, if we want quality milk and dairy products (that are produce from UK milk) then we will have to change the way we buy, if we do that then out farmers will get a better deal. I won't be holding my breath for the Con Dem Government to get its act together and finally wake up and pull the fat (or the milk) out of the fire...they won't. So what are we going to do?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

TOOLED UP!

News that the UK is training Saudi Arabia's national guard (the elite security force deployed during the recent protests in Bahrain) in public order enforcement measures and the use of sniper rifles should come as no surprise. Plaid's Jonathan Edwards MP, who has tabled parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Defence about its links to Saudi Arabia, has done excellent work exposing this questionable but no doubt lucrative business to the cold light of day. The UK Government has spent may years tooling up the forces the of repression across the globe and signing lucrative arms deals with some of the worlds most repressive regimes.

Depressing though this news is, we would do well to note that this is relatively old news - in that the UK has been quietly supplying and training up some pretty questionable people's security services for years. Even David Cameron took arms dealers on a recent tour of Middle Eastern states - no doubt we can off a good discount of rubber bullets and tear gas in exchange for ensuring that more than a few pints of the dark stuff (and we are not talking about Guinness here) keep flowing. Mrs Thatcher in here time oversaw the the sale directly and indirectly of more than enough weapons to Saddam Hussein when he was our boy, some of which broke the sanctions that were imposed during the war between Iraq and Iran.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A FUNNY OLD GAME?

A Saturday without football (save for the big game tonight with Barcelona v Manchester United) gives me pause for thought. As does the news that the BBC may seriously reduce its coverage of events (sporting and otherwise) in Wales is not good news. If the 'Welsh' focus is watered down and the number of programme opt outs reduced to a bare minimum - then people may wonder why bother at all.

Taking football for a moment, if you follow football in Wales and here I mean outside of the top flight and the league of Wales then the coverage you get if you are a Wrexham, Newport County, Colwyn Bay or a Merthyr supporter can be pretty minimal to start with. Any further reduction in coverage could effectively make our sides invisible. BBC Wales (well the BBC Sports at least rather than BBC Wales itself) did wake up a bit to the existence of Newport County AFC when they lingered close to the play off's this season, but, largely I suspect because of Wrexham.

Over recent years the absence of results (let alone any match reports - save when playing against Cardiff, Swansea or Wrexham in the now defunct FAW Cup) on the BBC Wales News bulletins, was long been noticed (and noted) by people in the South East whether they were supporters or not. There was a degree of parity (admittedly only a degree) of coverage of results which most people would expect with two Welsh sides being at the top end of the same division.

What sort of coverage can we expect for Colwyn Bay (promoted this season) and Merthyr (also promoted this season) when the sports budget amongst other things may be seriously reduced. 6 out of 10 and 'A marked improvement on previous years, but room for improvement' would be my mark for the BBC Sports coverage of the County and 10 out of 10 for S4C's Sgorio's coverage (which was pretty good). one question though remains to be resolved when will BBC Radio Wales finally change its jingle / trailer which still annoyingly refers to 'Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham' only?

Friday, 27 May 2011

FOOD SECURITY

We should spare a thought or three to the matter of 'food security' - food security you may ask? Yes, not energy security, but Food security which is nothing new, in 1996, the World Food Summit defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledge that the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences. All very fine and day you may say, but, what does that have to do with us?

Well, a lot actually, especially as the UK produces 73% of ‘indigenous-type foods’, and is about 60% self-sufficient when exports and local consumption are set against production. UK consumers spend an average of £420 per household on food each year that they then throw away, or 4.1M tonnes of food nationally. Every day we bin 4.4 Million apples, 5.1 Million potatoes, 2.8 Million tomatoes and 1.6 Million bananas. 2009 Wrap data suggests £12 Billion pounds worth is binned every year in the UK, or around £680 for the average family when drinks and liquid food is included. In Wales as previously noted by Leanne Wood Plaid AM, South Wales Central, serious efforts are being made to cut waste.

We need to think about locally sourced food stuffs and to take a long hard look at the way the market for food in the UK operates. In the UK, we are when compared with 10 years ago, now importing nearly half our butter from abroad, cheese imports are also up, around 60 percent over the last ten years. We are importing those products that have added-value and are exporting the low-value milk products which are then ironically turned back into butter, yoghurt, etc and sold back to us.

This is madness; this is what happens in the Third World, where countries export their raw commodities cheaply and then have little choice but to buy back the manufactured products that are made from their own raw materials. Successive UK Governments both Conservative and New Labour have sat back and quietly allowed this to happen.

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

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

At the end of the day, ever rising food prices (and ever rising transportation costs) will bring little benefit to our own or more distant food producers because they are being short changed by the Supermarkets (and some of their suppliers).

Thursday, 26 May 2011

THE BIG SOCIETY?

If there was a day that David Cameron's Big Society quietly or not so quietly died then it the day that plans for low-level radioactive waste disposal to be allowed at a landfill site in Northamptonshire were given the go-ahead by the government. The decision for Kings Cliffe near Peterborough follows a two-year stand-off between the hazardous waste company Augean and campaigners. Nearly 98% of people who voted in local referendums voted to oppose the plans. Northamptonshire county councillors had also voted unanimously to reject the plan (which is a legacy of the last Labour Government) back in March 2010.Many people saw this case as an important test case for waste companies and one that would really test the Con Dem government's much proclaimed commitment to localism.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles (who at first glance bares an amazing resemblance to that type of smug long time elected and arrogant with it Labour councillor that many people in the South of Wales would recognise) said he had accepted expert advice that planning permission for this additional waste "would not be harmful to the local community". A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said Mr Pickles had taken account of the detailed findings of the planning inspector who had held a public local inquiry which was open and transparent to the public.

One one of the reasons why the waste may be dumped in Kings Cliffe is because of the UK Governments unhealthy obsession with pushing to develop Nuclear energy, because as older reactors are taken out of service, the demolition of surrounding buildings will produce a large amount of low-level radioactive waste. The Kings Cliffe Waste Watchers protest group believe that the site will end taking construction rubble from decommissioned nuclear plants because the existing national low-level radioactive waste repository near the Sellafield nuclear plant at Drigg in Cumbria is filling up.

There is a degree of irony here because whilst riding roughshod over the democratically expressed wishes of local people and various levels of elected local government citizen Pickles is valiantly endeavouring to guide the localism bill through the Westminster Parliament. So much for the Big Society was the Conservatives' main flagship policy at the last Westminster general election and was allegedly based around a desire to shrink the role of government and devolve power to local communities to run their own services.

Depending on who's doing the counting Mr Cameron ("call me Dave" is no more) appears to have re-launched the Big Society four times since the heady days of May 2010. There is much muttering on the Conservative benches from those who have always felt the idea is "too woolly", lacks clarity and inspiration. Too make matters worse Lord Wei (the PM's Big Society Tsar), who announced his resignation (on 24th May) to go back to charity work) has stated that the Big Society required a culture change that could take two parliaments to achieve, but it's critics (Conservative and otherwise) will no doubt continue to wonder aloud how much longer the big idea will last...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

WHERE'S CARWYN?

We live in interesting times, with extra powers either recommended to be devolved in the case of Northern Ireland or being negotiated for by the SNP Government and even being readily considered by the Con Dem government (in London) to be devolved in the case of the 50mw rule for planning consent for energy developments in Wales.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland has recognised the benefits of being able to set corporation tax on a regional basis and would help stimulate the economy of Northern Ireland - similar moves may be underfoot in Scotland.

The Con Dem UK Government appears to have accepted the principle of regional tax variation through National Insurance holidays for new businesses outside of London, south-east and east England. A one size fits all tax policy offers no support to poorer regions. Certainly the idea of a lower corporation tax rate which would make Wales more attractive for inward investment and would help Welsh businesses by cutting some of their costs could well be on the cards.

So it seems pretty logical step to allow Wales to adapt to the needs of its businesses and one would like to think that the Labour government in Cardiff Bay would share similar sentiments. Can one ask where is Wales in all of this? Is anyone in Labour (in Wales) standing up for Wales? Or more to the point, where is Carwyn?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

FRACKING HELL!

The House of Commons Energy Select Committee, without waiting until research into the environmental effects of mining shale gas have been fully researched and studied, has come out in favour of developing this energy resource in the UK. Perhaps, considering the potential damage to our environment MPs should have called for a moratorium on shale gas and waited until research into allegations about the technology is complete.

MP's say that any environmental problems associated with it in the US could be overcome by tight regulation and good industry practice here in the UK. Even MPs, despite their haste to develop what is seen as a secure energy resource, have stated the Westminster government would need to be particularly vigilant to ensure the technology did not pollute water or produce excessive greenhouse emissions.

Shale gas is gas trapped in rocks that can be released through new horizontal drilling techniques and by breaking open the rocks by pumping in water and mix of chemicals (or hydraulic fracturing) which is known as fracking. Here in Wales, the initial focus is on the shale gas reserves that may be found some 7,000 feet below the village of Llandow in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Interestingly enough Manchester University's the Tyndall Centre and the Cooperative Bank have released a report on the wider environmental impact of shale gas extraction, which is well worth a read. If you get the chance and watch Gasland, the film is based on the real life experiences faced by communities in the US, who have lived with (and are living with) the consequences of the dramatic increase in shale gas extraction.

In America, the Shale Gas extraction industry was boosted when it was exempted from groundwater protection laws, with some pretty dire consequences for some US communities. US land laws also helped as it grants landowners under whose land the gas is extracted a share of the proceeds, encouraging many of them to ignore wider environmental concerns - in the UK we have the Crown Estates.

Now interestingly enough, there is a resemblance to the headlong ill-thought out dash for gas in the 1980's (for Con Dems read Conservatives) with the possibility of a potential if short term revenue stream that may well be something that's exciting the Conservatives. Ironically money aside what is actually driving this potentially seriously environmentally damaging and polluting shale gas extraction industry are thoughts of energy security.

That aside for the moment, serious questions need to be asked as to who exactly reaps the financial benefits and who pays the price for the rapid expansion of the home grown energy sector? Whether it's relatively remote rural mountain top wind farms, open cast coal mines, large cross country electricity pylons close to some of our communities (rural or urban) or off-shore wind farms established in our coastal waters.

If we have commercial companies moving into Wales; to mop up grants and the incentives to establish alternative energy facilities that take advantage of our natural resources yet deliver scant material or any other benefits to the Welsh people, then we should rightly ask what's going on? And if all of this is taking place with the apparent (or actual) approval of an Uncle Tom Welsh Government in Cardiff then are we merely repeating what happened to us in the nineteenth century? Surely we can do better than this?

All that aside for the moment, one question that the Westminster MP's seem to have largely or deliberately avoided is that, according to British Geological Survey estimates that onshore shale gas reserves in the UK may be able to supply 1.5 years of the UK's total gas needs. So when its gone and we are all living with the potentially grim environmental consequences of the messy (to put it mildly) process then what?

Monday, 23 May 2011

A BAD DECISION

The Con Dem Government is dead wrong to nearly halve employment at the Newport's Passport Office. Sadly this announcement has been long expected, the retention of the customer service centre and the complaints and correspondence parts of the Passport Office (which will save around 150 jobs) will do nothing to prevent the loss of the 120 jobs which are too be cut. A Newport City Council report which assessed the impact of the Passport Office on Newport stated that it was worth £25 million a year to the local economy.

Only last year, Newport was included in a list of cities most likely to take a big hit from the cuts being made in London by the Tories and Lib Dems - and this announcement of job loses only reinforces that. The jobs and services provided are critical to Newport's local economy. The real danger is that the Con Dem's see the partial closure as unfinished business, how much longer before they have another go? This bad decision was made in London, not by the people of Wales, who understandably want to see a fully functioning passport office in their own country. Unless responsibility for the passport office is devolved to Wales, we will continue to have no real defence against decisions made in London.

At one well attended public rally we were all treated to Newport's Labour MP's condemnation of what the Con Dem's were doing. Now what has remained unspoken throughout the long and well supported campaign to retain the passport office, is that the decision to reduce civil service numbers to save money was made in Westminster by a Labour Government, well before the Con Dem coalition was formed and well before the last Westminster election took place. The Civil Service does little without being told what to do, so who in the last Labour Government started the wheels turning, other than probably a Labour Minster?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

SAT IN THE DARK?

Human society, has never been so energy dependent throughout all of human history as is it is now on energy. Electricity in one from or another helps to make our urban (and not so urban) communities run, think how many labour saving devices we have in our homes, or rather think what we have that's not electrically driven. Electricity helps to make a more equal society a distinct possibility, otherwise we are literally sat in the dark. Once in the dark, there is a risk that notions of fairness and quality go out the window, taking us somewhere quite unpleasant.

Our domestic (and business) energy prices can go up and down in the short-term, yet the long term trend is always (at least for hydro-carbons) going to be upwards, this is something that is unavoidable due to increasing demands for more energy, a growing population and the relative short term limit to the earth's hydro carbon fuel reserves. It's important to recall that in the 1950's people were actually told that in the future by the end of the 20th century energy would be too cheap to meter...oops!

In hindsight perhaps this was before so complicit idiots (in this case a Conservative Government) decided to purse a headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s and to throw our energy resources to this wolves, sorry the free market. In Norway, being no doubt of slightly sounder mind, they chose to sell their gas overseas (to the UK) and to pocket the profits, whilst massively investing in sustainable renewable energy sources (in Norway) which gives the Norwegians control of their own secure energy supplies.

In the UK, upon privatisation, there were 22 electricity companies and 19 gas companies, now we have six. Energy planning has by and large been left in the hands of the private sector, who have been far too focused on squeezing profits out of us to give any thoughts to the future. While other countries attempted to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK’s market driven approach has been proven to be entirely inadequate. France can store 122 days of gas and Germany 99. Yet the UK had as of April 2009 a gas storage capacity which would last only 15 days; the New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity.

One direct consequence of this was that the UK has to sell gas during the summer because they could not store it, leaving UK energy suppliers scrambling to purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter. Massive investment in gas storage facilities to hold gas imported from Qatar has taken place, but, with the best will in the world, that gas supply could hardly be described as secure as it sits in one of the more volatile and unstable regions of the planet. David Cameron can sell all the stun guns, cattle prods and baton rounds he likes to some of the most repressive regimes on the planet, but, over longer term he is not backing a winner (as recent events in the Middle East with the Arab spring clearly show).

Anyone with slightly more than half a brain (even the Con Dems) should actually be capable of plot this trend and be able to note the medium and long-term consequences of being dependent upon energy resources that you don't actually control and that are running out. Over reliance on an an increasingly self interested private sector, who's behaviour has been repeatedly flagged up as cartel like, has not helped to safely plan the energy future of these islands.

Self interest has been compounded by a real failure in basic strategic energy planning and made worse by the last New Labour government and the current Con Dem Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources, whilst doing its best to try and hide a whopping great subsidy for the much favoured (at least by the UK Government) Nuclear industry.

Being reliant on that nice Mr Putin's for our energy supplies is not the brightest of ideas, especially as having Russia's hand on our gas supplies can be a tad risky - just ask the Ukraine. Over the longer term, Russia will have potentially declining cash reserves and an economy that is heavily reliant on its trade in gas for export, as Europe grows more dependent on Russian gas then the risk of artificial shortages as a consequence of Mr Putin's (our his successors) geopolitical games will be something all of us in Europe can all do without.

In Scotland, the SNP government is actively driving Scottish energy policy, something that will benefit the Scottish people. Energy consultants and developers are busy mapping specific locations where water that flows down steep enough slopes and ravines to allow it to generate an increasingly precious resource: energy.The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is actively supporting and encouraging the development of hydro power schemes within the park's boundaries and local communities are also planning to build their own local schemes (something that will deliver sustainable cheap energy and other financial benefits as well).

One of the reasons why the hydro rush will work in Scotland (and could work here in Wales) and should deliver long term sustainable benefits is the new feed-in tariff that came in 2010. The subsidy for producing green energy has been increased and it makes schemes more viable, which when combined with a progressive Government that is actively driving the growth of sustainable non oil and gas and non nuclear dependent energy supplies'- means that plans to develop sustainable renewable energy supplies are proceeding apace.

The question is will Labour in Wales step up to the plate and grasp the opportunity to drive and develop energy policy in Wales?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

NOT GOOD NEWS

Despite a well organised and well supported campaign to prevent the closure of Newport's Passport Office, PCS Union leaders say they expect confirmation this Monday that the passport office will close with the loss of 280 jobs. The PCS said indications from the UK Government were it would press ahead with its cost cutting measures.

Local people, local politicians and local press were united in their call to retain the Passport Office, the Westminster Welsh Affairs Select Committee has criticised the move warning that it will have a "significant" economic impact in Newport. An Identity and Passport Service spokesman said it had completed a collective consultation over the centre's future and that it would inform staff of the future of the office on Monday.

So much for a Conservative dominated Government listening to Wales and so much for the consultation and listening to local concerns. While I rarely agree with any sentiments expressed by the South Wales Argus in relation to Wales, The South Wales Argus, adequately described the news of the closure and its impact on Newport back in October 2010 in an editorial, which I post in full:


IGNORANCE OF WELSH IDENTITY


AS we have said all through our campaign to save Newport's passport office, the loss of 300 jobs would devastate each and every individual and their families and have a severe impact on the local economy. 


But at a time when the government is actively planning the loss of half a million public sector jobs the loss of 300 is not in itself likely to cause it to reverse the closure decision. 


What we have said all along is that it is morally and philosophically wrong for the Welsh nation to lose its only passport office - a powerful symbol of national identity. 


Now we discover what, in truth, we had suspected all along.


In reaching its decision to obliterate the passport office in Newport the home office did not for one moment consider the impact this may have on the national identity of the Welsh. 


At a time when officialdom goes way over the top not to upset various religious or lifestyle lobbying groups, and when it is rightly illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds the home office (upholder of the law) sees no difficulty in ignoring Welsh identity.


This takes us back to the days when the Encyclopaedia Britannica told its readers that to read about Wales they had to look under references to England. This is the work of Whitehall mandarins and ministers who see Wales as nothing more than an extension of England. 


This newspaper is not in any way an advocate of Welsh nationalism, but it does believe totally in the right to nationalistic Welshness.

Whitehall's failure to recognise the inalienable rights of Wales to equality with other nations smacks to us of institutionalised racism.


It is time to draw a line in the sand which central government thinks very carefully before crossing.

Criteria for crossing this line should not just consist simply of a business case but of a complete understanding that this is a different part of the United Kingdom, not a region of England, with a proud history and with proud traditions, which it is not going to surrender. 


The politicians need to acknowledge this fact and, as we have said before, deliver a much more sensitive strategy for saving money that does not deliver a kick in the teeth for Wales. 


[The South Wales Argus EDITORIAL COMMENT...on Wednesday 27th October 2010]

Friday, 20 May 2011

HANG ON A MOMENT...DID HE JUST SAY?

I was reading a piece in the Western Mail (20th May 2011) on the Severn Bridge and the fact that the Welsh Affairs committee had received no hint or suggestion that tolls will fall on the Severn Crossing when it enters public ownership. Knowing the Tories this should come as no surprise although the Welsh Affairs Select Committee (currently chaired by the Monmouth MP David Davies) had recommended that recommended (back in December 2010) that the toll could be as low as £1.50 in 2017 when ownership of the Severn Crossings reverts from Severn River Crossing PLC back to public ownership in 2016 or 2017 (or perhaps 2018).

It's no secret that Plaid would like to see the transfer of powers in order to reduce the tolls on the bridges, which are currently £5.70 per car, £11.50 per van and £17.20 per lorry and have a considerable impact on Welsh businesses and the Welsh economy. Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The Professor's study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport.

Under the current set-up, once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing is paid off (by 2016 or 2017) the revenue stream will revert straight to Treasury coffers in Westminster. The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses found the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the study found that transport, construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness.

The bridges are of such vital importance to Wales it is only right that control, or at least shared control, over them is in the hands of the Welsh people. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid suggests reducing the cost of the tolls to under £2 a car and would also introduce new collection techniques so that people crossing the bridge would have an alternative to paying by cash. Any profit that is made will be used to maintain the bridges and upgrade Welsh infrastructure.

The bridge tolls are literally an extra tax on jobs, on Welsh people going to work and on business in the south of Wales. The Western Mail story also drew attention to the fact that forthcoming work on the inside lane on both eastbound and westbound will be carried out this summer. Work on the eastbound carriageway is due to take place between June 9th and July 14th. Resurfacing will be carried out on the westbound route between September 6th and October 11th. I was thinking yet more joy for bridge users, when I caught sight of the following:

Philip Hammond, the Transport Minister, said he could not give any indication that the toll would reduce, but he did say it may no longer be feasible to only pay in just one direction.


He said: “The amount of truck drivers that tell me they go in one way and go out another purely based on the toll tells me that from the Treasury's point of view an income is being lost an in another way is an unfairness that could be addressed as we go forward.”

                                                                                                                    Western Mail (20.05.2011) 

Hang on a moment, does that mean what I think it means, in that they are now seriously thinking about charging both ways across both the bridges?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE?

News that Conservative Minister Greg Clark agreed to meet with Plaid's Jonathan Edwards MP and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to look at implementing the wider devolution of energy powers for Wales is good news. Currently the Welsh Government only has powers to determine planning applications up to 50MW on land, meaning that it cannot decide on a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay or larger energy generation schemes.

The Conservative and Labour manifestos for the Welsh general election both pledged to make the case for devolving powers over energy projects up to 100MW. Plaid has called for the full devolution of energy powers arguing that the figure of 100MW has been “plucked from thin air” and not based on any meaningful target. The only question is will Carlwyn's Labour lot step up to plate and make the most of this opportunity or not?

Some more better news is the UK Government’s announced u-turn on closing coastguard stations. The much criticised plans would have seen Wales’ three coastguard stations reduced to one, with the closure of facilities at Milford Haven and Holyhead, leaving just Swansea operational. The well organised and highly effective ‘Save Our Coastguard’ campaign in Milford Haven and the hard work of Plaid’s former AM Nerys Evans helped to put this issue firmly in the public eye.

The right mess of things made by Westminster has shown that Wales cannot seriously expect Westminster to look after issues in Wales. Under the original proposals our coastal waters would have been served by coastguard centres as far away as Aberdeen and the south coast of England. Skilled workers and important local knowledge of the area would have been lost.

The Con Dem Government did its best to try and sneak out the consultation in the first place, perhaps hoping that no one would notice what was being proposed. Westminster MPs were given little opportunity to scrutinise the proposals. There is also the alarming news that no discussions were held with the Welsh Government as much of this shambles took place during an important election period in Wales.

The danger is that the devil may yet remain in the detail, but the news that UK Ministers have extended a consultation on the plans and will allow the Commons transport committee extra time to complete its assessment of the proposals, is to be welcomed. Plaid and many people view the Coastguard as a vital emergency service for all our coastline, and has called for a consultation to look at devolving coastguard services to Wales.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

WRONG ANSWER...

First Minister Carwyn Jones's decision not to include a rural affairs minister in his new Welsh Government cabinet, while disappointing is not a surprise. The decision to opt for a deputy agriculture minister rather than a rural affairs minister at cabinet level, means that two cabinet ministers would have split responsibilities for farming. So much for farming interests being well represented, in the last One Wales Assembly government our farmers were well represented by a Rural Affairs Minister (Plaid's Elin Jones) who fought hard for our farmers and ensured that their voice and their concerns were heard. While it's early days with this Labour government, this is not a good sign and suggests that Labour has failed to recognise the importance of agriculture to the Welsh economy, and may suggest that Labour has little concern or interest for the future of rural Wales and our farming communities.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

STANDING UP FOR WALES?

Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards MP has called on Welsh MPs from all parties to support a move which would transfer power over energy from a UK quango to the Welsh Government. The power to decide on a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay or a tidal reef across the Severn estuary would be transferred to Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, who has the Welsh Government's energy portfolio.

If an amendment to the Localism Bill (tabled by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards) that has been selected for debate in the Commons tonight (Tuesday) is passed – the amendment to the Localism Bill would give the Welsh Assembly the right to decide upon planning applications for electricity generating stations in Wales, and offshore in Welsh waters.

In their recent election manifestos the Conservatives and Labour Party's pledged to double the current limit of Welsh Government powers to grant planning permission from 50MW to 100MW. Plaid argues that both figures are arbitrary, rather than evidence-based, and that a single consistent Welsh approach to energy would achieve the best results for renewable energy in Wales.

At the moment the Assembly only has the power to deal with applications of up to 50MW on Welsh land while the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) deals with applications greater than that. At sea, the Marine Management Organisation has the power to grant consent for applications of up to 100MW, with the IPC having the power above that figure. The Localism Bill plans to scrap the IPC, with the powers being returned to the Secretary of State in Westminster. Plaid argues that it is essential for consistency that all energy decisions for Wales are taken by the Welsh Assembly.

Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“If Carwyn Jones is in any way serious about Labour’s claim to be standing up for Wales, then his party must vote to give him full powers for energy in Wales, not hang about on the sidelines and abstain.

“If only two weeks after the election, Labour fail to support this motion to give Wales the power to make a real difference to our energy policy, then we can only wonder where else they will fail to stand up against the coalition.

“After all, if their MPs don’t trust their own First Minister with these powers, what does that say for him and his government in Wales?

“Energy decisions being made in Wales is a matter of common sense and consistency.

“Our amendment would mean that instead of two agendas being in place, one in London and one in Wales, there would be just a Welsh agenda to develop and diversify our energy portfolio.”


Amendment to the Localism Bill – to be discussed on 17th May, 2011 (after 7:30pm)

Transfer of generating station consent powers to Welsh Ministers

Jonathan Edwards

NC11

To move the following Clause:—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to transfer to the Welsh Ministers those functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Marine Management Organisation which relate to applications for an order granting development consent for the construction or extension of generating stations in Wales or in waters in or adjacent to Wales up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) must be laid within 12 months of the passing of this Act and are subject to the negative resolution procedure.’.

Monday, 16 May 2011

COME CLEAN ON NUCLEAR COSTS

The Con Dem Government has claimed that our taxes won't be used to subsidise nuclear power. Yet the new Energy Bill that's being debated opens the way for public bailouts if the cost of dealing with nuclear waste spirals. Instead of risking a nuclear bailout, the Government should set this money aside for nationwide energy saving and investment in renewable power.

Now MPs have called for ministers to come clean and admit they are tacitly subsidising nuclear power despite promising that the industry would not receive such support. MP's on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee have reported that Ministers are attempting to disguise the Nuclear subsidy and are distorting reforms of the energy market. They have also warned that unless the issue was resolved, the UK would fail to get the low-carbon energy system it needs.

The Select Committee's report focuses on the Con Dem government's plans to shake up the energy market.The shake up is needed to ensure the provision of affordable electricity without compromising the UK's climate change targets.

At the present, the current energy market exists to supply plentiful (allegedly) cheap electricity, but makes little provision for ensuring that any energy supplied has lower carbon emissions. MP's and some energy experts have complained that the UK Government is failing to attract enough investment in the infrastructure needed to meet energy needs.

The Con Dem coalition agreement allows the construction of new nuclear power stations "provided that they receive no public subsidy". At the moment the nuclear industry is refusing to build new power stations unless their are further inducements, Con Dem ministers have proposed threat the energy companies that build nuclear power plants get long-term contracts at a guaranteed price for energy produced by their nuclear power.

To make life even more complicated there is the problem of the low price of carbon credits in the EU emissions trading market. UK ministers now plan to introduce a minimum price below which carbon permits will not be allowed to sink with any shortfall will be covered by revenue raised by taxation.

This is intervention in the free market (such as it is) to an amazing degree from a Conservative dominated government. The Con Dems have said that both these policies will benefit renewables too, yet, this ensure that electricity prices remain higher than they would have been without this blatant intervention to favour nuclear industry. This "one size fits all" policy barely disguises what is a subsidy to the nuclear industry, as has rightly been noted by MPs.

For many years, the UK nuclear industry has lived quite happily off massive subsidies from UK taxpayers, at the same time cleaner renewable forms of energy have been starved of cash and investment. Potential sustainable energy suppliers and developers have had to face a less than subtle pro nuclear bias from UK Government departments and agencies, something that has seriously slowed the development of secure and sustainable energy supplies in the UK.

Back in 2002 British Energy (BE) became virtually bankrupt, so the European Commission quietly approved the UK Government's decision to bailout the private nuclear power generator. Under the restructuring plan drawn up to save the company, the UK government agreed to indemnify the company against any shortfall in the nuclear liabilities fund which meets its clean up costs.

BE in return contributes 65% of its net cash flow to the fund, the National Audit Office says this uncertainty "places a significant risk in the hands of the taxpayer", effectively leaving the taxpayer according to NAO facing "a large and uncertain liability". It gets better, BE’s liabilities, all taxpayer subsidised, have risen to £5.1 billion, an increase of more than 30%, since 2003. The amount the taxpayer has to pay will depend on the company's future financial performance.

Now the UK Government plans to build new reactors in the UK (something initiated by Tony Blair and supported by Gordon Brown) and runs the risk of fatally binding the UK to nuclear power for decades, something that will continue to divert vital investment away from clean, renewable energy. It's time for the UK Government to finally come clean about the costs (financial and environmental) of the UK nuclear industry.

Back in 2008, Gordon Brown’s cabinet rubber stamped Tony Blair’s decision to back the nuclear option to solve the UK energy needs was both disappointing and short-sighted, but, was not unexpected. By making nuclear power its priority the failing Brown Government effectively abandoned any serious attempts to conserve energy, and significantly undermined its own commitments to tackling climate change. So far the Con Dems have brought little to the debate...

When it comes to power generation there are real job opportunities that need to be fully grasped; the renewable energy sector can play an immensely important role in creating more green energy jobs. We need to create a decentralised power generation system which can include a community owned and community beneficial sector which will create sustainable long-term jobs for local people, not damage the environment and contribute to providing our local communities with a long-term viable economic energy future.

Now is definitely the time for control of energy policy to be devolved to the National Assembly and time for some original non nuclear thinking and a fundamental sea change in attitude from all levels of government in Wales towards energy policy.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

ACTION THIS DAY

David Cameron's public commitment to enshrining the military covenant in law is welcome, but, based upon the past record of various Conservative and New Labour Governments towards treating our service personnel and their families, before, during and after their service, I and no doubt more than a few others will believe his party's commitment when I actually see it happen and the bill becomes law.

Let's not forget that successive Conservative and Labour governments have treated our servicemen and their families with contempt, no wonder some people believe that it no longer matters which of the two larger party's is in government, as our servicemen will be treated with contempt. in recent years our service personnel have literally been forced to buy their own kit and treated to a total lack of interest.

Elfyn Llwyd MP
Yet time and time again it is our servicemen that will be called on to step in to pull the fat from the fire whether it is dealing with the consequences of strikes, disasters, the saving lives at sea, foot and mouth and almost everything else as an when necessary. Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP has repeatedly challenged the UK Government over its commitment to the military covenant, arguing that veterans have been completely left off the Armed Forces Bill currently passing through the Commons.

It's worth remembering that it was a Conservative Government that chose to privatise military housing. This crazy decision was a combination of ideological driven idiocy and exceptionally poor financial management /judgement as a result of dodgy decisions made during the dying days of John Major's Conservative Government came back to haunt Gordon Brown's New Labour Government during its dying days.

New Labour Ministers were blamed for allowing thousands of soldiers' homes to fall into ruin and disrepair after they were sold to the private sector in a £1.6 billion deal. Some 57,600 homes from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were sold to City Financiers and then rent them back to troops for a profit.

The terms of the deal, made in 1996 meant that the MoD remained responsible for the properties' upkeep and claimed that the extra cash from the deal would provide badly needed funds to help refurbish them. However, the truth was a tad different, as it emerged that the Westminster Government diverted most of the money elsewhere.

The deal resulted in the payment of a tidy £1.67 billion to the Treasury for the homes, a profit share of £156m on the sale of surplus properties, yet many are dilapidated and unfit to live in. New figures reveal that the MoD has spent as little as £4.4m a year on maintenance and refurbishment. The Sunday Times revealed details of just how little the government has spent on the properties in 2010 reporting that General Sir David Richards, the head of the army, was concerned that many troops felt undervalued because of cuts to housing and shortages in other areas.

By the mid-1990s, military housing around the country was in need of tens of millions of pounds worth of repairs. John Major's Conservative administration agreed to sell off the Military housing stock to the highest bidder, partly to raise funds for a refurbishment programme. The deal was put together in November 1996 with the government being paid for the homes, which would then be rented to troops and their families at below market rates.

Surplus properties would be sold off with a percentage of the profits going to the Treasury. The consortium that acquired the military housing stock made more than £479m in profits from its investment vehicle (Annington Homes) and became one of the UK's largest owners of private residential property.Now this was all fine in theory, as the soldiers and their families should have benefited from the deal with hundreds of millions of pounds pouring into the Treasury.

The Sunday Times revealed that New Labour ministers ensured that only a fraction of that sums raised be spent on the housing stock that had generated the windfall. Annual expenditure revealed in a parliamentary answer) on maintenance and upgrade was revealed to have ranged from £4.4m to £13.9m between 2003 and 2008. New Labour Ministers got very defensive and insisted that they will produce extra funds to help improve the quality of the homes and pointed out that more than £27m was spent in the financial year 09/10.

So what we ended up with was an unholy mess which was a direct result of decisions made by the previous Conservative Government and by successive New Labour Governments that resulted in army families living in substandard military accommodation while some of whose loved ones served overseas - so much for the military covenant. The poor maintenance record pre-dated privatisation of the military housing stock was a reality well prior to 1996.

The Conservative Government in 1996/97 effectively washed its hands of a long standing problem, by selling off the military housing stock to the highest bidder in what can best be described a questionable deal which shifted responsibility onto someone else so that ministers who could not be held accountable and subsequent New Labour Governments failed miserably, to ensure that repair, updates and maintenance was being carried out.

A bad situation was then made worse by successive New Labour government's which failed to carry out basic repair and maintenance, they slashed the defence budget from which money for the maintenance of MOD property is provided. One wonders on what the £1.67 billion received was spent on and whether the then Chancellor Gordon Brown was ever aware of what was going on?

The current Con Dem government has spent most of the last year since it's emergence burying its head in the sand and perhaps hoping that the problem will go away - well it won't and it needs fixing, so get it done and no more weasel words.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

MEASURING PROGRESS?

President Obama
A few years down the line and we are all still paying (and are going to carry on for some time) though the nose for the banking fiasco (crisis is too dignified a word for it) that was overseen by New Labour and is being paid for by the rest of us. Post election (back in June 2010) George Osbourne and the Tories reluctantly paid lib service to the publicly stated need to regulate the more unsavoury aspects of the banking sector. Nominally at least they signed up to President Obama's publicly stated aim to regulate tax havens.

Just in case you forget, it was back in January (2009) when President Obama announced two more than reasonable measures to curb the banks, the first aimed to stop banks from engaging in proprietary trading, private equity, or any other activity for their own profit unrelated to serving customers. The second measure aimed to take further steps to limit the balance sheet size of banks so that they cannot in future acquire “too big to fail” status.

Theodore Roosevelt
President Obama was absolutely right to characterise his proposals as a victory for common sense and while we may have some way to g before the banks are forced to act responsibly, the first steps have been taken. David Cameron and the Tories (despite everything that has happened in an almost unregulated, greed driven finance sector over the last few years) are still far to enamoured with their friends, the dodgy money men in the City of London.

There are times when you can find yourself wondering just exactly how far we have progressed in the last hundred years of so? In the later years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century US Presidents, Presidential candidates and politicians including Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) and William Jennings Bryan (a Democratic Presidential candidate) were opposed to the power of big business and fought against the dangers of monopoly capitalism (as personified by ‘Standard Oil’ and ‘the Trusts’ in Teddy’s case).

William Jennings Bryan
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, a future Democratic presidential nominee, warning against the power of finance, said: “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” President Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan had and in my opinion still has a pretty valid point - if you believe in the ‘free market’ and the City money men claim to, then no organisation can be too big to be allowed not to fail.

While Westminster bailed out the banks with massive public subsidies, which effectively made some of the banks 'publicly owned’, they are still run by bankers, who are so thick skinned that they carry on regardless with the awarding of bonuses. The Con Dem UK Government should have seriously consider breaking up and ‘privatising’, perhaps selling the shares on the open market (with specific quotas on how many shares any one institution can own) – because from where many people are sat these bloated banking organisations appear to be a serious block on the ‘free market’.

There is still a pressing need for similar rules for financial institutions across the globe, off shore must become a matter of historical record – there must be no where the financial institutions can hide and no more endless threats of taking their “ball” (businesses operations) elsewhere and relocating because they have lost their so called special status. It's important to remember, that no one, not even bankers or MPs are above the law and no one is above financial regulation, scrutiny, free from responsibility and consequences for ones actions.

The OCED has estimated that some $10 trillion dollars worth of private wealth is concealed in Paradis Fscaux (tax havens). These financial dead letter drops tend to be used by banks, multi-national companies, corporations, the super (and not so super) rich, drug dealers, dictators, terrorists, fraudsters and other criminals who use them to hide and launder their wealth. One side effect of Paradis Fiscau is that they enable people and organisations to avoid paying their fair dues to the society in which they live, unlike the rest of us mere mortals.

To put things in perspective - that $10 trillion dollar figure produced by the OCED means that the lost taxation normally accrued would be more than double the entire planet's global aid budget. President Obama, President Sarlozy and Chancellor Merkel are on record saying that off-shore capital needs to be properly regulated - Gordon Brown (remember him?) waffled, the Con Dems are pretty quiet or are they merely in the pockets of the money men in the City.

In relation to the banking crisis and the vast debts that us mere mortals are having to repay, perhaps is best to paraphrase Winston Churchill, 'Never have so many had to pay so much on behalf of so few!'. And we are going to carry on paying...and the money men continue to escape regulation... so much for progress...

WHAT'S NEXT FOR OUR FARMERS?

With the election over few politicians will be out chasing the farming vote or chasing farmers for that matter. Will Carwyn's Labour lot even try to appear to be the farmers friend or stand up for Wales? Our farmers, despite mutterings to the contrary, are not merely seeking the annual brown envelope from Brussels but for real opportunities to make a living (and a contribution) within the agricultural sector - they need a fair deal.

We in Wales still need take more practical steps to give Welsh farmers a fighting chance of making a real living; the aim of securing 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 should still a realistic and practical aim. This is something that could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products.

Our farming communities, still feel pretty isolated and marginalised, the contempt with which the farmers had been treated in the past by Labour and Conservative Governments in Westminster and even in Cardiff Bay prior 2007 used to mirror the neglect of the important agricultural sector, which despite everything still makes a significant contribution to our rural economy.

Any economic failure across the farming sector could (and did) have a massive knock on effect for dependent small businesses and suppliers across the whole rural economy, in the small towns and across the Welsh countryside itself; which is as the living landscape is a result of generations of ongoing hard work by our farming community.

In the past both Labour and Conservative Governments in Westminster (and Cardiff Bay) treated the agricultural sector with indifference. It is vitally important that this attitude at all levels of Government become a thing of the past; much more effort has to be made to market first class Welsh produce within the UK, in Europe and beyond.

We should not forget, that in the 1980's it was a Tory Secretary of State who literally sat on his hands and quietly did nothing when the Welsh Dairy farmers got hammered into the ground by cuts in the milk quota. Never again must any Welsh Minister fail to stand up and be counted and to fail to argue their corner on behalf of Welsh farmers.

That changed with the arrival of Plaid's Elin Jones (who became the One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs) - she hit the ground running and was not afraid to meet with and stand up for our farmers and fight for their their interests - this made an immensely refreshing change from what has gone on before. The question is what or who will happen next?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

FAIR FUNDING (NOT)

So much for fair funding for Wales, Danny Alexander (during Treasury Questions at Westminster yesterday) admitted that the UK Government is refusing to consider Barnett reform before any wider changes to the way the Welsh Government is funded. This is an interesting decision, especially as the UK Government is literally throwing money at the Scottish Government following the SNP electoral landslide last week, one that will hold Wales back.

Plaid has argued that pursuing a Welsh ‘Calman-style’ Commission prior to any reform of the current funding system would be a case of ‘cart before horse’ and has called for the Labour Government in Cardiff to sit up and pay attention to the gravity of the situation. The reform of the Barnett formula has been recommended by four seperate reports, including the independent Holtham Commission, before any changes are made to the financial autonomy of the Welsh Government, yet nothing has been done.

Jonathan Edwards MP
Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid’s Treasury spokesperson) said:

At a time when the UK Government is literally throwing money at the Scottish Government following the SNP landslide last week, I am dismayed that the Chief Secretary confirmed that changes to the way Wales is funded will not take place before their so-called Welsh Calman-style process.

The UK Government know they are now dealing with an administration in Cardiff Bay intent on holding Wales back and have no need to offer any sort of concessions. The message is clear – vote Labour, get nothing.“Such is the arrogance and ineptitude of potential Labour Welsh Ministers, the significance of the Chief Secretary's answer and its dire consequence for Wales will probably go unnoticed.

"The independent Holtham Commission set out a route-map for how financial reform should take place in Wales - that there should be a Barnett floor to prevent the underfunding of Wales getting worse, then the introduction of a needs-based formula and only then should other financial reforms take place.

The UK Government should be in no doubt that it will not have the support of Plaid Cymru for any changes to the way the Welsh Government is funded unless Barnett is reformed first.

The ConDems cannot be allowed to get away with skipping steps one and two by a toothless Labour administration in Cardiff."

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

LEGISLATE OR ADMINISTRATE?

The new National Assembly, post referendum and post election now has legislative powers - one question that needs to be asked (and answered) is how will those legislative powers be used and to what end? One area for potential legislation is that of our railway network (such as it is). In the last twelve years there have been two successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (which re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (which re-opened for passenger services on Wednesday 6th February 2008) were by their nature administrative rather than legislative unlike in Scotland (where specific bills to reopen old railways have been vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament.

I mention this because I was just wondering when will we see bills placed before the National Assembly to:
  • A bill to reopen the Ebbw Vale (Rogerstone) to Newport railink 
  • A bill to reopen the Llangefni and Amlwch railway
  • A bill to construct new railway stations at Caerleon and Magor 
  •  A bill to reopen the Aberdare and Hirwaun railway (in the Cynon valley)
  • A bill to set aside and protect old railway lines from development in Wales for potential reopening

Monday, 9 May 2011

GAS PRICES, PROFITS OR DIVIDENDS?


Centrica Shareprices
Centrica, which owns British Gas, has warned that customers may face higher energy bills. Centrica says that "end-user prices" do not reflect the price they are paying for gas on the wholesale market. Additionally the company also stated that it was likely to cut investment in the UK after the Government raised taxes on North Sea oil and gas production. Centrica says that the tax hike would erode profit growth in 2011, sending the company's shares down more than 4%. Hmmm gas prices? falling profits or fresh dividends for shareholders? Your new bill coming to a letter box near you...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

SOVEREIGNTY AND THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE

The SNP's 69 MSPs
David Cameron, in the immediate aftermath of the landslide SNP election victory, was quick to say that he would personally campaign in Scotland for a NO vote in any independence referendum. Wiser heads appear now to have prevailed and Westminster is now saying that it would not oppose any successful referendum in favour of independence.

This is a fairly fundamental issue - the SNP (like Plaid in Wales) believes that Sovereignty resides with the people of Scotland - so if the Scottish Tories or the Scottish Labour Party or what's left of the Scottish Liberal Democrats want to campaign against independence then fair enough, but, it's not really the business of anyone from south of the border including Mr Cameron.

Whatever happens over the medium term, the Scotland Bill is currently being considered after the Calman Commission which examined the progress of devolution. Under the Bill, the Scottish Parliament will take charge of more of the income tax raised in Scotland. The proposed new powers would be combined with a cut in the block grant, currently about £31 billion, which Scotland receives from the UK government, the SNP wants to strengthen the bill to give it more economic teeth.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

COFFEE, CHOCOLATE AND IKEA

Having been a candidate 4 times (3 times for Monmouth constituency and once for the South Wales East regional list) I have learned (the hard way) how to get over the coffee and adrenalin fuelled experience that follows the closure of the Polling stations at 10 pm on election day. Admittedly this time, when the result for the South Wales East regional list came it at 07.45 am (slightly earlier that 05.50 am in Monmouth constituency in 2007) I had only been awake for a mere 27.5 hours (heaven help the election counters and polling station staff) I was slightly more prepared for it.

The coffee and chocolate helped, as did the superb picnic prepared by one (soon to be elected) of the Plaid Regional Team members. Afterwards, you can try to sleep, but, usually the coffee and the adrenalin have kicked in, as has the desire to watch the remaining election coverage (which started at 12 noon on Friday). Chilling out helps, as does a good meal and lots of non caffeine laced liquid.

Having caught up on some sleep, I went to watch the Gwent Dragons v Ulster. A good game, the Dragons played well but Ulster were better and the referee did seem to miss a lot (at least from where I was sat). I also try to tidy up my house (somewhat neglected over the last weeks of the campaign) and a day later I make the pilgrimage to IKEA to finally buy the things I should have bought some months ago but kept putting off because of the immanent election!

Friday, 6 May 2011

PLAID'S NEW SOUTH WALES EAST TEAM

Plaid's Lindsay Whittle and Jocelyn Davies and South Wales East Regional Campaign Team

Thursday, 5 May 2011

VOTE PLAID TWICE FOR A BETTER WALES

Today's Welsh national election is our chance to help change our country for the better. In these challenging times Wales needs a strong and ambitious party in government, not more of the same from the others. Plaid has shown what we can do to protect Wales during the difficult years and its now time to do more. Raising standards in schools, creating new jobs and improving our hospitals must be the priority. If we want an ambitious Welsh Government to get on with the job, then vote for it.

So in today's Welsh national election, vote Plaid twice - for a better Wales.  The Polls open until 10pm tonight!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

PLAID'S REGIONAL TEAM FOR SOUTH WALES EAST

On Thursday you have two votes in the Welsh General election on Thursday May 5th. Our National Assembly now has some law making powers so we can begin to finally fix some of the economic, social and environmental problems that effect our county. We need people who will ge ton with the job rather than those who would talk around the problems that effect our communities. So use you vote wisely and vote Plaid twice for a better Wales.

Your second vote is for the South Wales East regional list, Plaid's regional list team, consists of:

Jocelyn Davies
Jocelyn Davies is the number 1 regional candidate on the South Wales East list. She can be contacted at JocelynDavies@plaidcymru.org. Born in 1959, Jocelyn Davies is from Newbridge, Gwent and has represented the South Wales East region at the National Assembly since 1999. She read law at Oxford University’s Harris-Manchester College and is a former borough councillor.

She is Plaid Cymru’s first woman Government Minister, with responsibility for housing and regeneration. She is also Business Manager for the Plaid Cymru group in the National Assembly. Her political interests outside her Ministerial responsibilities include constitutional affairs and special educational needs.

Lindsay Whittle
Lindsay Whittle is the number 2 regional candidate on the South Wales East list. He can be contacted at LindsayWhittle@plaidcymru.org. Lindsay Whittle is a Plaid candidate for the South Wales East region. He was born in Caerffili and lives in Abertidwr, and since 2008 has been the Leader of Caerffili County Borough Council for second time, having previously led the authority between 1999 and 2004. Lindsay has fought every Assembly election thus far, and the previous seven Westminster elections, for Plaid Cymru and has repeatedly won local council elections for 34 years.

Lindsay is the Welsh Local Government Association’s spokesperson on Equalities, Community Safety and Social Justice, and still serves as a Governor for his old school, Cwm Ifor Primary. Outside of politics Lindsay has had a professional career of several decades as a Housing Manager in Cardiff, and his political interests include housing and local government, as well as issues such as combating homelessness.

Bleddyn Hancock

Bleddyn Hancock is the number 3 regional candidate on the South Wales East list. He can be contacted at BleddynHancock@plaidcymru.org. Bleddyn Hancock is a trade union official who was prominent in the successful battle to secure compensation for retired miners, a campaign which won the biggest workers' compensation package in the world. Bleddyn has served as a Plaid councillor and also a candidate at various Assembly and Westminster elections.

He was elected to the first ever Plaid-controlled council in Wales, in Merthyr, as one of the youngest councillors in the country at the time, and later figured in the civil disobedience campaign which led to the construction of the A470. Bleddyn Hancock also used his legal experience to assist the safeguarding of the Tower and Bettws collieries. Aside from his experience as General Secretary of the NACODS mining union for South Wales, Bleddyn Hancock has served as a miners' representative on the European Coal and Steel Community, and on the National Coal Board. He was educated at the Glamorgan Polytechnic.

Jonathan T Clark
Jonathan Clark is the number 4 regional candidate on the South Wales East list. He can be contacted at JonathanClark@plaidcymru.org. Jonathan Clark was born in Newport in 1966 and still lives in the city of his birth. Jonathan was Plaid Cymru's candidate for Monmouth for Westminster in 2005, for the National Assembly in 2007 and for Westminster in 2010.

A web-administrator at the University of Wales, Newport, Jonathan worked for the Directorate for Public Affairs and Internal Communications at the Metropolitan Police. Before living and working in London, he was a trainee journalist for the Gwent based Free Press Series newspapers. Educated at St Julian’s Comprehensive School and Gwent College for Further Education, Jonathan gained a B.A. (Hons) in History at St David's University College, Lampeter.

He also has an MA Celto-Roman Studies from University of Wales, Newport and is working on a Research PhD in Roman Archaeology at Cardiff University. Jonathan's political interests include affordable housing, public transport and economic development. His non-political interests include trekking, writing as well as supporting Newport County AFC, the Gwent Dragons and Newport Rugby Football Club.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A BUSY MORNING IN ABERGAVENNY...



A brief moment in time during a busy campaign, with Jill Evans (MEP), Plaid President, Fiona Cross (Monmouth Constituency Candidate), Jonathan T Clark (South Wales East - Regional List Candidate), Jocelyn Davies (South Wales East - Regional List Candidate) and Janet Davies in 'Red Square', at Plaid Street Stall, in Abergavenny on Tuesday 2nd May 2011.   

MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE IN MONMOUTH

Fiona Cross 
FIONA Cross was raised in Torfaen and was elected as a Plaid Cymru county councillor in 2008. She is the youngest county councillor in Gwent and is a respected scrutiny chair in Torfaen Borough County Council.

Fiona is heavily involved in her local community as a community hall chair and a governor for two schools. She is very passionate about the environment and sustainability and has been driving this within her own council.

We are lucky in Wales we have vast amounts of renewable energy sources, but we are not able to take full advantage of them. Plaid believe that if the Welsh government was able to take full advantage of our resources, we could , one day in the future produce more than enough energy to meet all our needs in Wales.

To make a real difference the Welsh government should be able to make decisions about big energy projects like those generating 50 megawatts of energy. Plaid in government will look into setting up a national not-for-profit public company Gwyrdd Cymru for renewable energy generation for Wales which will also create employment.

Whether it’s going to the library, supporting the local rugby club or taking the kids to their swimming lessons, we believe in supporting the community and leisure facilities which enrich our lives.

And sometimes we look but we don’t see the beautiful country in which we live such as our parks, our mountains, beaches and castles – wemay take them for granted but, like you, we want to protect them for future generations to enjoy and explore.

Fiona believes Monmouthshire constituency needs better organised public transport; we need better services for commuters and more practical bus stops at Chepstow and Abergavenny.

Fiona thinks that we need to consider reopening existing old railways such as Little Mill and Usk and between Chepstow and Monmouth. Plaid is committed to regulating bus services to make sure that bus companies provide services where they are needed and not just on the most profitable routes.

Our communities need more affordable housing. Our small businesses and suppliers need a level playing field so that they can compete against the larger retail chains and our town centres need to be at the heart of our communities. Our pensioners and military veterans need a better deal.

Put a cross for Cross for a better Wales.

Monday, 2 May 2011

LYNDON BINDING FOR NEWPORT WEST

Lyndon Binding 
Lyndon Binding is the Plaid Cymru candidate for Newport West constituency in the Welsh National Election to be held on the 5th May 2011. He can be contacted via e-mail at LyndonBinding@plaidcymru.org.

Lyndon was born in the south of Wales and is an elected County Borough Councillor for Caerffili Borough Council. He is also Chair of Health, Social Care and Well-being Scrutiny Committee and has worked in the care and health sector for the last 19 years in Wales.

He opposes the ill-thought out closure of Newport's passport Office. Lyndon opposed the development of the Severn Barrage and has backed calls to develop environmentally sensitive renewable energy options in the Severn Estuary.

Lyndon wants to see the development of a youth employment strategy for Newport and believes in full consultation with local community's when it comes to the expansion of large supermarkets within Newport and the surrounding area.

Lyndon said:

"I know over the years, the people of Newport have been let down by labour, are angry with the Tories and feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats. this time, make sure that you are not let down by the London Parties, vote Plaid twice for a better Wales on may 5th." 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

CHRIS PAUL FOR NEWPORT EAST

Chris Paul - Plaid's candidate for Newport East 
Chris Paul is the Plaid Cymru candidate for Newport East constituency in the Welsh National Election to be held on the 5th May 2011. He can be contacted via e-mail at ChrisPaul@plaidcymru.org .

Chris has lobbied against the closure of the Passport Office in Newport. He  has called for the Severn Bridge to be brought under Welsh Government control with reduced tolls. Chris will fight for better rail services and facilities at Caldciot and Severn Tunnel Junction and has called for a new railway station at Magor.

Chris Paul was born in Abergavenny in 1978 and grew up in Monmouthshire. He was educated at Monmouth Comprehensive and Dartington College of Arts. Like many he moved away from Wales to go to University and then to work. He has lived in the South West of England, London, and South America before returning to Wales to settle with his partner in 2007.


Chris has been a grassroots Plaid activist since that time and has contributed to the party at both local and national level, through policy development, canvassing, blogging, and as branch press officer. His professional background is in the private sector, grounded in the arts and media.

He currently works for an international media and events company in Bristol. Chris is an English and Spanish speaker, and Welsh learner. Apart from politics Chris is a widely published poet and critic, and plays the guitar. A member of Amnesty International, his political interests include the arts and culture, economic development, the environment and international affairs.