Sunday, 30 December 2012


While I am having a good Christmas with families, friends and loved ones, I am missing out on football due to waterlogged pitches with the County fixtures at Rodney Parade v Barking (on the 22nd) and Hereford (away at Edgar Street) on the 29th December falling victim to the rain. Honestly there is only so much Borgen you can watch! One belated Christmas present that did arrive was a good away win for Swansea City at Fulham, hopefully a few more wins will follow shortly. Cardiff City remain on top of the Championship, hopefully they will join Swansea in the premiership.

Newport county and Wrecsam remain (at present) respectively second and third in the Blue Square Premier (both sides meet at 7.45pm on Friday 4th January (at Rodney Parade). Football tribalism aside I want success for the other Welsh football clubs (and Welsh football period). I want to see Swansea City do well this season, and Cardiff City join them (preferably not via the play-offs) in the Premiership next season. I want to see Newport County (as Champions) and Wrecsam (as play-off winners) promoted as Champions from the Blue Square Conference this season. I hope that Colwyn Bay manage to stay in Blue Square North and see no reason why Merthyr Town can also not get promoted again this season.

Reguardless of the code, sporting success on the field is difficult enough but made more difficult by the economic situation, which hits costs and attendances. What would be nice would be better all round media coverage for Welsh football (outside of the Premiership and the Championship) for the rest of us. S4C’s Sgorio does an excellent job on Monday evenings but BBC Wales despite a significant improvement in recent months, could do better. Better media coverage would be good for the game in general and the clubs specifically. Here's hoping that the second half of the County's season continues as it has in the first half.

My optimism (the sporting kind) goes beyond the round ball game to rugby and I am ever hopeful (being a season ticket holder) that the Gwent Dragons (“Don't pass the ball to opposition players and kick it between the posts, not past them”) and Newport RFC will turn the corner between now and the end of the season. At a regional level I think that we need central contracting with the WRU running the show, with four regions along the Irish model - while they may not know it - the time of big egos and big moneymen has passed.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


A Plaid Cymru government would begin working now to significantly reduce tolls on the Severn Bridges and to make the statement that Wales is open for business for companies from over the border, said the party’s Shadow Minister for Transport. Rhodri Glyn Thomas has called on the Welsh Government to make the case for responsibility for the bridge to be devolved so that Wales can benefit from it.

Ownership of the bridge will be passed to the Department for Transport when the private company which owns it pays back its debt, which is likely to happen in 2018.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas said that a £2 toll for using the bridge will cover maintenance costs for the bridge. Running costs for the Severn Bridge amount to £15 million a year. Currently, consumers and businesses pay in excess of £72 million every year to cross the bridge.

Party of Wales Shadow Minister for Transport, Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

“Plaid Cymru has always said that lowering the Severn Bridge tolls would bring huge benefits for the Welsh economy. In 2011 it was our manifesto commitment to reduce the tolls and a Plaid Cymru government would be making the case for that now.

“When the private company relinquishes its ownership of the bridge in 2018, the Welsh Government needs to be ready to step in for the benefit of the people of Wales.

“People travelling home to see their families over Christmas will be charged £6 and businesses with lorries will have to may so much more, and this goes against everything the Welsh Government should be doing to improve the Welsh economy.

“Cutting the toll to cover maintenance would save millions for consumers and businesses and would cost the Welsh Government nothing. The UK Government needs to commit to giving the democratically elected Welsh Assembly control over the bridges so that Plaid Cymru’s economic policy can be implemented in the interest of the people of Wales.”

Friday, 21 December 2012


Well before the financial collapse, the party formerly known as New Labour (under Blair) signed up to and embraced the agenda of neo liberal capitalism and made its own. Basically neo liberal capitalism aims to restructure government institutions and regulatory bodies so that they embody the logic of the market and see their primary objective as the creation and policing of conditions for the competitive operation of essentially private markets.

The only real spat that New Labour had with George Bush, was when he brought in protective tariffs for the US Steel industry something that would had directly impacted on some of New Labour’s wealthy comrades in arms and fellow travellers. One result of this neo liberal capitalism was that most states in the world ended up with fatally weak redistributive mechanisms, weak financial regulation and a culture of excessive overpayment within banking and financial operations.

In developing countries like China, India and Brazil led to an increase in investors who were seeking opportunities to invest outside of their economies. The US and other financial systems had been deregulated (in the 1980’s); this allowed a virtual explosion of new financial packages to attract internal and overseas investors. The key problem with this was that these new financial packages basically repackaged risk, and sold in a way that much of the risk was pretty much hidden from investors.

One of the largely overlooked side-effects or consequences of the effective abandonment of financial regulation was the explosive growth of investments that aimed to make money out of money which had little or no link to the productive economy. It has been estimated that around 90% of financial transactions had little to do with generating goods, products and services and actual jobs.

What made things worse (potentially) was that even the ratings agencies themselves failed to understand the potential risks that were involved in this process, so the investors stood little change on their own, and a potential financial disaster loomed. The final problem came when the US home mortgage bubble, which had been aggravated by deregulation, was fed by a rapid unsustainable growth in home purchases inside the USA (simular events took place simultaneously in Ireland, Spain and elsewhere).

This led to a growth of debt and decline in savings. When property prices crashed, homeowners were unable to borrow more money against the value of their properties to pay of their debts. The property collapse hit the securities market, which had grown massively on top of home mortgages, as a result some serious financial players, went bust or were propped up by governments using tax payers money.

As a result of the financial collapse is that those institutions that have survived have effectively become risk averse and won’t lend funds to existing or new businesses, thus making the recession worse.  What may make things worse for all of us is that all of the Westminster focused political parties have bought into the free market driven economy, which was largely a product (in the UK) of the experience of the winter of discontent (1978 – 1979).

Even though a largely unregulated banking activities brought us the world wide recession / depression there is little talk of effective financial regulation and no assertively expressed alternatives to it. The Westminster elites abject surrender to the City’s money men leaves the most vulnerable in our society at the mercy of the free market, over the twenty years before the crash the rich have got richer (and have continued to do so) and the lower paid have been left with little option but to borrow.

Thursday, 20 December 2012


The worst journey in the world
David Cameron’s decision to honour the Arctic convoy veterans is the right decision even if it was a long time coming. Mr Cameron told MPs he had accepted the recommendations of a review of military medals carried out by former diplomat Sir John Holmes. Russia’s gratitude to the naval and merchant navy veterans who ferried supplies to Murmansk and Archangel during the Second World War has long been noted.

The veterans risked their lives time and time again convoying crucial supplies through often atrocious weather and hostile seas to the hard pressed (then) Soviet Union, which was fighting for survival. The Foreign Office (and the Ministry of Defence) had previously repeatedly (under both Labour and Conservative Governments) blocked this move saying that it would break the rules surrounding acceptance of medals. The Russian Embassy had expressed its 'deep regret' at this decision, which was understandably been condemned by surviving convoy veterans, their families and supporters.

Between August 31, 1941 and May 22, 1945, some 78 Allied Arctic Convoy (more than 1,400 merchant ships escorted by ships of the British, U.S. and Canadian Navies) sailed to the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.  Some 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were sunk by Nazi submarines and approximately 3,000 British servicemen were killed during the Arctic campaign.

The significance of lend-lease supplies for the Eastern front by Soviet-bound Arctic convoys and their role in defeating fascism is still emerging. The convoy veterans and the vital supplies they delivered were temporarily lost in the often hot rhetoric of the Cold War. Oleg Rzheshevsky, the Russian war historian, has noted that apart from everything else, the convoys were a powerful moral influence.

"The moral aspect of the Arctic Convoys meant a lot. This was an extremely important factor both for the army and for all our people as it signalled that we were not alone in that war but had strong allies such as Britain and the United States. This helped boost our troop morale on the battlefield and supported our people on the home front."

Successive Westminster governments had previously promised to create a medal, yet they all failed to deliver on their promise. The Russian Government has awarded our veterans three medals, the arctic convoys are now part of Russia’s school curriculum. The Russian Government and the Russian people understand the convoy’s importance, yet successive UK Governments seem to really struggle with this, at least until now.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


It will come as no surprise to those who know them that Labour in Wales councillors in Newport have voted against motion to keep free parking in Newport Town centre. So much for the 4,011 people who signed the petition (organised by the South Wales Argus) calling on Newport city council to think again. The Argus reported that Labour in Wales councillor for Gaer, Herbie Thomas, told the council had to stop kidding themselves and that no one shopped in the city centre anymore. He was reported as saying: "The town centre is finished. Let's not kid ourselves anymore. People shop differently now." So much for Labour caring for Newport. On Tuesday evening after some spirited exchanges the motion to oppose the plan to introduce charging for parking was voted down by 32 against and 10 votes (with one Labour abstention).

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


In Northern Ireland there is clear evidence of some long term thinking as more than £ 44 million pounds has been approved to boost green energy generation including potentially some 1,000 megawatts of renewable wind generation. Some of the funding will go to improve the transmission network and sub stations. The Northern Ireland Executive has set a target of generating 40% of the Northern Ireland’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The Scottish Government revealed its new green energy target set at 50% of demand by 2015. The Scots have already surpassed their 31% target for 2001 by about 4%. The SNP Government has stated that the new target would help build on the current 11,000 jobs in green energy following a "bumper year" for investment, with projects estimated to be worth £2.3 billion pounds.

The Scottish government's new interim target for 2015 is included in a refreshed Routemap for Renewable Energy for Scotland. Sustainable energy generation has been boosted by the launch (in October 2012) of a £103 million pound fund for Scottish renewable energy projects. The Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) is designed to attract more private investment to the sector. Scottish priorities include wave and tidal energy, and renewable district heating.

Meanwhile in Wales...yesterday the Welsh Labour in Wales Government yesterday woke from its post Welsh general election slumbers and demanded control of large-scale energy projects in Wales. Carwyn Jones now says that the Welsh Government should have the same powers as its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland to set energy policy – it’s a pity that he did not ask for the powers when Labour had a majority in Westminster.

The truth is that Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards MP and his colleagues in Westminster have done more (since the last Westminster general election) to try to get energy policy devolved to Wales than the whole of the Labour Party in Westminster and the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff. The party formerly known as New Labour has had plenty of opportunities to stand up for Wales; it has just chosen to put its own party interests before those of the Welsh nation.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


I can think of no better argument for local government reform than the ongoing row over the pay increase awarded by the Labour controlled council cabinet (Plaid voted against) in Caerphilly. On Monday many council staff in Caerphilly will walk out on Monday lunchtime in protest at the disgraceful pay rises set to be awarded to the council's top twenty executives. The former county of Gwent was abolished by the Conservative Government in the early 1990's, being replaced by five councils covering; Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport and Monmouth. One chief executive was replaced by five seperate chief executives, five heads of education, five heads of social services and deputies, etc. relative economies of scale were replaced by five seperate purchasing organisations, etc. It's time to bring back Gwent, but, with Single Transferable Vote to ensure that it is fully democratic rather than a Labour in Wales political monolith. Along the way we can cull the number of higly paid council cabinet members, and reintroduce some joined up thinking and sensible economies of scale cut out that local government middle management tier without cutting front line services.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


The 2011 Census results have attracted plenty of interest; one interpretation is the confirmation that Wales is a resource rich country with a poor people. This is something that even unionist opponents of independence would do well to recognise, along with the acknowledgement that we are not predetermined (or doomed) to be poor. Historically our natural resources were largely been exploited by others for the benefit of others. There were scant benefits for the great majority of the Welsh people beyond low pay and dangerous employment in the extractive or manufacturing processes.

Following the almost wilful destruction of the heavier industries, the Welsh Office and then the National Assembly pursued a policy of blindly throwing vast sums of public money towards attracting external industry to Wales by providing relatively cheap labour. This largely short policy known as 'inward investment' by and large failed to secure long term employment or grow small to medium sized indigenous enterprises, which are the key to sustainable prosperity.

I for one am pretty tired of seeing the same old recycled old WDA press release in the Western Mail / Daily Post going on about how this or that development will create 6,000 jobs (again). The Government in Cardiff (even with relatively limited powers and an even more limited imagination) reacted far too slowly to the emerging challenges from Eastern Europe and more distant competitors.

We in Wales have paid the price for that inbuilt smug complacency as between 1998 and 2008, some 171 foreign-owned sites closed, with the loss of 31,000 mostly manufacturing sector jobs. The economic development model as practised by the Westminster Government (and the Welsh Office) before 1997 and by the Welsh Government (save between 2007 and 2011) was fundamentally flawed at a very basic level – focused on the short term and fundamentally dependent upon a combination of relatively cheap labour and other inducements.

Economic development (from the 1950's onwards) was focused on one-off large scale developments (single egg solutions), which promised much and deliver significantly less. The assumption, not entirely incorrect, may have been that other smaller business would develop supply materials, goods and services to the primary larger employer – this happened in part, Llanwern Steel works (before the rundown) being a reasonably good local example.

The problem was that if the larger economy suffered a downturn or caught cold then the smaller firms would suffer with varying degrees of pneumonia. The focus should have been on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants and also tend to trade with each other and other local firms.

The LG development near Newport was a classic example of this flawed economic vision - promising the usual 6,000 jobs – it accrued significant public funding (from the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague) yet never delivered anything like what was promised. Most economists (even Conservative ones) should have had serious concerns about the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies and a basic understanding of where technological developments in relation to PC monitor screens were going, enabling them to say hang on a moment.

This combination of fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and a forthcoming Westminster election led to one of the more spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made, something that ended up costing us millions of pounds worth of public money. The old WDA never delivered anything like long term economic stability and much needed long term job opportunities to our communities – something that it should have done considering the amounts poured into it.

Wales is a recipient of significant quantities of Objective One funding, targeted at the West and the Valleys since New Labour recognised the economic and social affecting those parts of our country. Yet European funding opportunities appears to have been seriously squandered, where are the physical assets, by which I mean the things you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail and road), broadband infrastructure, etc - that bring long term real benefits to our communities.

Yes, we have developed a highly profitable training culture (in and around Cardiff) quite exactly what this delivers for the Welsh people is open to question? How much money has been scammed (and scammed may be the key word) into dubious expensive training programmes and questionable educational programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy?

The Plaid driven One Wales Government (2007 – 2011) made significant efforts to think and act differently when it came to economic development with its focused support for small to medium sized enterprises. The current Labour Party in Wales’s government in Cardiff has simply returned to the failed economic development policies of the past.

Living in the past simply won’t work! The old failed model of going out to attract branch factory operations for a relatively short term period has been rolled out once again. This does little to help develop our economy or equip our people for the twenty first century world of work it merely repeats the costly mistakes of the recent past, but, of course Labour in Wales is far happier living in the past than planning the future for Wales.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


The fractious dispute over free parking continues in Newport between representatives of the Labour Party in Newport who want to abolish free parking and campaigners who want to retain it (because it brings people into the city) is ongoing. At present there is a parking scheme which allows up to two hours free parking. Newport City Council faces a funding shortfall next year of around £ 8 million pounds, so cutting the free parking scheme which comes in at around £ 1 million pounds looks like an easy win (to those looking to make savings / cuts).

In reality the timing in the run up to Christmas and the post Christmas sales, with half the high street and the back of the market dug up or closed off has not gone down well at all with traders or shoppers in Newport.  The South Wales Argus has clearly touched a raw nerve within the Labour Party in Newport.  A petition, which urges the council to reverse their decision to scrap free parking for the first two hours in council owned car parks has attracted over 3,700 signatures from traders and shoppers across the city and continues to grow.

Now some of the fresh intake of Labour Councillors who have become frustrated with the Cabinet’s behaviour and the lack of communication over the parking issue are talking about absenting themselves from the vote on free parking. Some of them are according to the South Wales Argus even talking up the possibility of even voting against their own party on the issue (I personally won’t hold my breath).

The party formerly known as new Labour in Newport has a history of never being big on communication, either with the electorate or its own membership. The fact that the ruling Labour council’s cabinet did not consult traders or shoppers about axing free parking within the city will come as no surprise to those of us who know how the Labour Party behaves in power or opposition.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


It has taken far too long and I for one doubted whether Westminster would deliver, but there is now a Groceries Ombudsman who will be able to fight for both farmers, food producers and food consumers. Even getting to this point has been a hard slog for campaigners inside (and outside) of Westminster. Plaid has campaigned extensively on this issue but we are not their yet. What now needs to be done is for the new Groceries Ombudsman (created by the passing of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill last week) to be given real teeth to tackle supermarket price fixing (with significant fines) which hits the farmers, the food producers and the consumers of their produce.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said:

"It is very welcome news that the Government has acted to empower the Ombudsman with the ability to levy fines, as advocated by Plaid Cymru since 2004 when Simon Thomas AM, the former MP for Ceredigion introduced a private members bill.

"This move will benefit the thousands of people working within the agricultural sector, particularly within the milk industry.

"The agricultural industry makes a huge contribution to the Welsh economy and its employees deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.

We are therefore pleased to see the Government take steps to ensure that the supermarkets are forced to deliver fairness throughout the supply chain.

"Recently, the dairy industry has faced a crisis due to a cut in the price of milk, leaving farmers at a loss and paying more to produce than sell.

“It is encouraging to learn that the Department for Business have listened to concerns that their original Ombudsman lacked the powers required to protect farmers. I look forward with interest to seeing the amended legislative proposals in detail."

Friday, 7 December 2012


There is an increasingly desperate search for secure energy supplies, which is one of the reasons why George Osborne jumped in with both feet in relation to exploitation of Shale Gas reserves, hence the creation of the Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil. Just exactly how that fits in with the concept of Devolution in Wales is open to question? The chancellor also started the ball rolling on yet another Conservative driven dash for gas by approving the construction of potentially up to 30 new gas-fired power stations, to be built over the next two decades.

The UK Westminster government wants up to 26 GW of new gas generating capacity by 2030 much of which may come from the potentially environmentally questionable process known as fracking. Back in March 2011 the House of Commons Energy Select Committee came out in favour of fracking as an option for ‘secure energy’ simply stating that any environmental problems associated with fracking in the US would be overcome by tight regulation and good industry practice.

Options for energy exploitation (South Wales)
I am a big believer in developing Wales’s secure energy potential; unlike the Chancellor and the Con Dems I actually believe that we should have secure sustainable energy supplies. I also think that they should be community beneficial and just happen to think that we in Wales should have control of them. One inescapable part of the problem is that we (the population of the planet) are running out of easily (relatively) accessible hydrocarbons (oil, gas, etc) no matter how you spin it they are a finite resource.

The search for conventional hydrocarbons (oil) is becoming increasingly costly. Work on the Kashagan oil island in the Caspian Sea, off Kazakhstan has cost $46 billion dollars or around £ 28.8 billion pounds to develop. It is one of Kazakhstan's most ambitious project and just happens to be the world's largest oil find in the past 40 years. Kashagan may be as good as it can get for the Kazakhs and the Oil companies, but, one inescapable fact is that the field holds approximately 13 billion barrels worth of recoverable oil or around enough oil to fuel the world for nearly five months.

At the moment much of the UK’s gas supplies come from Qatar (in the Persian Gulf) which while being relatively stable has some Human Rights issues. As stable as it is, the problem is that the Middle East and the Gulf region are unstable. If some of Qatar’s despotic and repressive neighbouring rulers (run out of rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds) and fall to popular unrest (at some point the repressed will lose patience and then it comes down to a simple if bloody numbers game) then we could be talking about lights out in the UK and flickering lights for much of Europe.  

Options for energy exploitation (North East Wales)
Hence the Chancellor’s quiet sense of urgency surrounding exploiting the Shale gas reserves. Now there are potentially sizeable reserves of Shale gas under some parts of our country with an estimate of recoverable gas reserves, possibly worth £120bn something which have got some people and some of the energy companies salivating.  Oddly enough Gazprom, the monopolistic gas producing arm of the Russian State, with its hands tightly gripped on the gas pipe, of most of Eastern Europe, does not favour Shale Gas production.

Now this all sounds good, but, the potential impact of the hydraulic fracturing technique (fracking) on people's health and environment is potentially pretty grim. The process can use a combination of water, sand and chemicals which are pumped into rock formations under high pressure. Something which has led to a sizeable number of environmentalists to raise real concerns about the fracking method could which can contaminate drinking water supplies.

Something else that is worth thinking about is that to make the extraction process work economically there is a requirement to drill lots of wells in close proximity to each other to aid extraction. Something that might lead to a far more significant environmental footprint during and after the gas is gone. In parts of south and north east Wales, whether with deep mined or open cast coal mining we have seen how the post mineral extraction clean up works.

One unanswered question is what will happen to any tax revenues, drilling permit fees, etc from Shale gas extraction. The Labour Party in the late 1970’s and the Conservatives through the 1980’s failed to pump revenues into an oil and gas fuelled sovereignty fund (like Norway did) choosing to blow the lot on subsidies for inefficient nationalised industries and tax cuts for the rich.

Ultimately Shale gas is also a one off, literally a one hit wonder, once gone it’s gone for goods. UK reserves, even if 50% was extracted might last 10 years, and then what? Over the last 15 years successive UK governments should have been working hard to develop non hydro carbon dependent sustainable energy supplies. Rather than do something they simply left energy planning and energy development to the whims of a cartel dominated nominal free energy market.

The main beneficiaries at the moment for Shale exploitation would by the UK Treasury (tax) and the Crown Estates which 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. Any shale gas extraction should be regulated, supervised and approved (but only after a full and comprehensive environmental assessment) here in Wales, not in Westminster.

Any tax or licence revenues raised should go into a ring fenced all Wales sovereign energy fund which the National Assembly should avoid plundering for short term financial fixes. As we in Wales will have to live with any consequences (both long and short term) of an environmental disaster it is only reasonable that our natural resources should be controlled by and developed for the benefit of the Welsh people.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Yesterday we were waiting with no particular degree of anticipation for Chancellor George Osborne to inform MPs (and the rest of us) that there was no "no miracle cure" to the UK's economic woes in his Autumn Statement. The Chancellor made his statement against a pretty grim economic background when compared with his budget forecast made last March in the Budget. Mr Osborne continued to state that the coalition was continuing to "confront the country's problems" and was hard at work reducing the deficit.

The cancellation of the proposed 3 pence a litre increase in fuel duty may help a little and the  extra £227 million pounds for capital projects is useful it does little to redress fair funding for Wales. When it comes to growth being predicted to be -0.1% in 2012, down from the 0.8% prediction in the Budget in March we are truly in the realm of old style Soviet economic statistics. I suspect that some of the Con Dems (the Cons rather than the Dems I suspect) actually believe that austerity is the answer to the economic disaster left behind by Gordon Brown (and New Labour).

The party formerly known as New Labour predictably called the government's economic policy "a terrible failure” not that they would have done anything different if Gordon had managed to pull the electoral fat out of the fire back in 2010. What’s pretty clear from all of this is that the Con Dems are out of ideas, there was not really a Plan A, so there is little likelihood of a Plan B and clearly no desire to sort out the ongoing UK’s problem with tax evasion. So much for being all in it together.

Almost unnoticed by the UK’s self Anglo centric media the Irish Government presented its sixth austerity budget since the banking and economic collapse. Tax rises and spending cuts were announced as the government aims to save another 3.5 billion euro (around £2.8 billion). All of the so called economic "low-hanging fruit" has been picked clean after four harsh years of austerity. A new property tax (set at 0.18% of the value of a home up to 1 million euros (£800,000 pounds or $1.3 million dollars) and cuts to the health and social welfare budgets are planned.

Since 2010, Ireland, following an international bailout, has been forced to follow strict spending limits set by the EU and International Monetary Fund. The Irish government stated that it would meet its deficit reduction target for 2012 and that it  projected a budget deficit of 8.2%, compared with a target of 8.6%. Therefore the deficit would continue to fall steadily to 2.9% by 2015, it added. Irish economic forecasts (unlike on this side of the Irish Sea) were based on economic growth of 1.5% in 2013, rising to 2.9% growth by 2015.

Ireland is no Greece and while it has been riot it has not been protest free. The evident anger (if not quiet rage) at the bankers and the elites abject criminality and sheer folly may have been sidelined at the prospect, after hard years, by some light at the end of Ireland's dark economic tunnel, but, I suspect that it won’t be forgotten. Despite some economic glimmers  there are still plenty of people across the Celtic Sea who are less than happy with the choices made by the Irish elite and the fact that they have largely got away without punishment for their crimes, misdemeanour's and bad decisions.

There have been calls for a new republic and a fresh start literally writing off the past (and the debt) in a simular manner to Iceland. in ‘Towards a Second Republic’, Peadar Kirby and Mary Murphy exposed the winners and losers from the current Irish model of development and related the distributional outcomes of the use of power by Irish elites. It’s analysis of Ireland's economics, politics and society, draws some important lessons from its cycles of boom and bust. They also look at the role of the EU and compare Ireland's crisis and responses to those of other states.

The book (which is well worth a read) also includes proposals to construct new and more effective institutions for the economy and society are also included. Considering (somewhat closer to home) that  there have been no real consequences (or punishments for that matter) for the banking crash for the inhabitants of the Westminster village or the bankers (save for the loss of the odd bonus), I suspect that it won't be on the Christmas reading list of any elite reasonably near here.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Protest Camp in flames (Associated Press)
Myanmar (Burma) may be slowly moving towards democracy, but, other issues are yet to be resolved. Once important issue that is still to be resolved (not just in Myanmar) is the age old one of the relationship between who owns land, who lives on it and what other people (and governments) want to do with it.

Police have used water cannon and tear gas to break up protests against the development of a vast Chinese-backed copper mine in the north-west. Riot police used water cannons, tear gas and smoke bombs to break up the 11-day occupation of the Letpadaung copper mine, wounding dozens of villagers and Buddhist monks. Protesters said dozens were injured and that their  camps were set alight in Monywa town. Local farmers, monks and activists have been protesting against what they say are forced evictions to allow for the expansion of the mine, Burma's largest.

Aung San Suu Kyi (the Opposition leader) has visited the area to meet protesters and wants to mediate a settlement.  Protests by local farmers started last June when they say they  were forced to accept a deal (two years ago) which meant that they gave up their land in exchange for new housing and financial compensation. The mine is jointly owned by the Myanmar military and the Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco. The mine company has stated that the deal was voluntary, and that only a small minority of farmers rejected it. The expansion mine's billion-dollar expansion project covers several thousand hectares of land in Burma's Sagaing region.

When it comes to development, for natural resources, including minerals and food production or housing and sustainable energy developments (in Wales, Europe and across the world) there is a growing problem with finding the balance between economic development, the environment, job creation and the impact of development on local communities.  In the developing or the developed world the bottom line has to be that that local people should have a significant say or even control over the development process and any community should benefit from the development (or exploitation) of local resources.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


News that Starbucks is planning to change the way it operates so that it pays corporation tax in the UK will be a small crumb of comfort to ordinary tax payers. Starbucks despite having around one-third of the UK coffee shop market, has only paid corporation tax only once in the past 15 years. In its simplest form Corporation tax is paid by foreign companies on profits made in the UK. UK-based companies pay corporation tax on their taxable profits wherever they are made. Starbucks, sold nearly £400 million pounds worth of goods in the UK last year, but paid no corporation tax at all, because it transferred some of the money to a sister company in the Netherlands in the form of royalty payments, it bought its coffee beans from Switzerland and paid high interest rates to borrow money from other parts of the business.

Starbucks is throwing in the towel in relation to paying Corporation tax; this may be timely as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has produced a report calling for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to "more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance". Interestingly enough HMRC revealed that in 2011-12, £474.2 billion pounds worth of total tax revenue accrued to HM Revenue and Customs (the Department) which was £4.5 billion pounds higher than for the period 2010-11. Oddly enough there was a decrease in corporation tax revenue of £6.3 billion pounds.

The House of Commons Public Accounts  Committee also heard evidence from heard evidence from Google and Amazon. Amazon has a reported turnover of £207 million pounds for 2011 for its UK Company (, on which it has shown a tax expense of only £1.8 million pound, yet showed a European-wide turnover of €9.1 billion for its Luxembourg based company (Amazon EU Sarl) and a tax of €8.2 million. is a service company in the UK providing services to Amazon EU Sarl for which it receives payment. That company is owned by a holding company, which is a subsidiary of Amazon's group companies.

Amazon subsequently provided a copy of the unaudited accounts for Amazon Europe Holding Technologies S.C.S for 2011 showing a profit of €301.8 million and no tax payments.  Amazon also provided information showing that for 2011, £3.35 billion pounds worth of sales were from the UK, 25% of all international sales outside the USA.  Yet Amazon has over 15,000 staff in the UK, invoices UK customers from the UK, hires UK staff in the UK, has inventory physically in the UK for UK customers and to all intents and purposes has the majority of its economic activity in the UK, rather than in Luxembourg, but pays virtually no corporation tax in the UK.

The inability of HMRC to properly curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes which are costing the UK billions of pounds was flagged up by the National Audit Office (NAO) The NAO revealed that HMRC was dealing with a backlog of 41,000 cases involving individuals and small companies, with up to £10.2 billion pounds at stake. I am sure that the news that Con Dem Chancellor George Osborne plans to introduce a general anti-avoidance rule and hold talks with other G8 developed countries about clamping down on tax avoidance will make us all sleep soundly in our beds – perhaps not!

Friday, 30 November 2012


In Belarus, Europe last old style Soviet style dictatorship, a prominent human rights organization in Minsk is being evicted from its office. The Deputy Chairman of the Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center Valyantsin Stefanovich reported on November 19th that the unregistered organization had received papers from Belarusian authorities saying that it should vacate its office by November 26th.

Back in the USSR?
Belarus has a bad Human rights record, something which lead to the imposition of sanctions (including a travel ban for government officials) by Western governments. An Amnesty International report on Belarus noted that restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly had increased during 2012. They noted that the Belarus government continued to carry out executions and that prisoners of conscience remained in detention and were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Amnesty also noted the right to a fair trial was also restricted.

The Human Rights centre’s office is situated in the apartment of Vyasna chairman Ales Byalyatskim, who  is currently in prison for tax evasion, a charge he has denied since his arrest last year. Back in November 2011, a court in Minsk sentenced him to 4 and 1/2 years in prison and ordered the confiscation of all his property. The human rights centre has been working in Byalyatski's apartment for 12 years. Viasna’s activist have been subject to systematic harassment for years, the Human Rights Organisation was de-registered by the state authorities in 2003, yet has continued to operate.

The opposition boycotted elections in September of 2012 which the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) described as unfree with the electoral authorities clearly showing a lack of “neutrality” or “impartiality”, not to mention serious concerns about electoral procedures. Oddly enough the observer mission from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) led by Belarus's ally, Russia described the election as being "transparent and open".

Back in June (2011) 1,000 people defied a ban in Belarus to hold a silent protest at the economic crisis in the capital Minsk, with police holding back. The protestors gathered peacefully in streets close to President Alexander Lukashenko's main administration building. The rally  was organised through social networking sites despite threats from the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko (who has been in power since 1994) that he would "strike hard" against protesters.

Protest rallies in Belarus are becoming increasingly rare as the authorities have been engaged in a crackdown against dissent since December 2010.  After the Presidential election in December 2010 five former candidates and 37 opposition activists to be accused of incitement after tens of thousands of people took part in protests after the 19th December vote which was described by international monitors as "lacking transparency".

Thursday, 29 November 2012


Being a big believer that we need to tap the energy potential of the Severn Estuary and no friend of a Severn Barrage I welcome the report produced by Regen SW and Marine Energy Matters on the energy potential of the Severn Estuary, which suggests that the estuary could generate 14GW of energy and create massive economic benefits without resorting to a financially costly (£34 billion pounds) and widespread environmental damage of a Severn barrage.

Tidal fence
The report (‘Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach) found that by using a combination of renewable energies more low-carbon energy could be generated than that previously offered by proposals for a full Severn barrage. The report suggests using tidal lagoons and tidal fences, deployed in conjunction with tidal stream technology, wave and wind power to harness the “massive” energy potential of the estuary.

Tidal Turbines
Energy generation schemes in the Severn Estuary can benefit the communities on both sides of the estuary. It’s time for the Welsh Government to wake up and start the ball rolling with some tidal lagoon and tidal turbine development projects to test the already existing technology.

We in Wales are certainly well placed when it comes to potential for sustainable energy generation in terms of resources, people and skills. Our country has an abundance of natural resources whose potential, if sustainably developed could both protect the environment and help grow green jobs and balanced sustainable energy economy.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


The successful efforts of an independent inquiry, chaired by Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd MP, were rewarded on Sunday when laws making stalking a criminal offence were brought in. The UK government has introduced two offences of stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence. A parliamentary inquiry which found the previous laws on harassment and stalking were "not fit for purpose". The inquiry found that about 120,000 victims, mostly women, were stalked every year.

The inquiry, which was launched almost twelve months ago, was unprecedented in its nature due to the involvement of members of all parties, Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, external experts, and stalking victims and their relatives. This is the first time in the history of Parliament that an independent inquiry has succeeded in implementing new legislation and Mr Llwyd hopes it will serve as a blueprint for future use in campaigns where the focus is people, not party policy.

Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd MP, who spoke ahead of a press conference marking the implementation of the laws said:

“We are very pleased that these laws will be implemented on Sunday creating two offences of stalking.

“One of these is punishable by up to six months imprisonment, the other by up to five years.

“These are of course welcome but, one of the things which gave rise to our inquiry which led to this change in the law is the fact that the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 did not concentrate on conduct amounting to stalking.

“Furthermore, we do need to ensure that there is a culture change among police officers, prosecutors, probation officers, social services, and the judiciary. These are serious offences and no longer can we tolerate palming people off by saying they are mere ‘domestics’.

“In addition to this, there will be a need to ensure that forensic psychologists are available to treat these individuals because in the vast majority of cases it is possible to get them to desist from this behaviour.

“This is vital because otherwise we are merely looking at a revolving door syndrome of going to prison, coming out, and going back in again.

“I am privileged to have led a team of dedicated parliamentarians whose hard work and commitment to this subject led to this remarkable result.

“At the end of the day the introduction of these offences will improve the lives of thousands of people each year and they will save the lives of many too.”

Monday, 26 November 2012


Plaid is right to call on the Welsh Government to pull its finger out when it comes to ending the injustice in the energy sector. The big six energy cartel members are busy ramping up fat profits while they can and successive Westminster Government’s have quietly looked the other way. We have excessive profiteering on the part of the energy companies, while Welsh consumers pay around 5-10% more for their energy than anywhere elsewhere in the UK due to a combination of poorer energy infrastructure, the effective demise of competition in the nominal free market, and older housing stock.

I can see no good  reason why the energy market in Wales should not be regulated in here in Wales - we would be hard pressed to make it any worse. Energy wise things have not been helped by the Labour in Wales Government (in Cardiff) which shows no signs of stirring from its s elf-induced lethargy to do anything significant about developing the energy sector. They have done little save to bleat occasionally about excessive on-shore wind-farm development and the lack of any real planning input in the process due to the 50 MW (onshore) and 1 MW (off-shore) rule, something that ironically is their fault.

We need not be in this situation, if the party formerly known as New Labour and the Conservatives had actually honoured their Welsh general election manifesto promise in 2011 to increase the 1 MW limit for off-shore and 50 MW for on-shore threshold for planning for energy project. This failure effectively prevents the development of realistic community beneficial energy schemes, some of which may be over the threshold, so they have to be decided on in Westminster rather than in Wales, and since when has Westminster seriously had any time for Wales?

Back in January (2012) Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for energy powers to be transferred to the Welsh Government; his bill would have given the Welsh Government powers over energy generation in Wales. The bill, which was blocked by Labour and Conservative MPs (and defeated by 239 votes to 44), would have ensured equality with Scotland and Northern Ireland and would have meant that Wales would have been better placed to fight fuel poverty with responsibility for our own resources.

Last week Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas AM outlined what he saw as excessive profits by energy companies. He called for the Welsh Government to work towards the devolution of energy policy so that it can protect the people of Wales form unjust practices.

The Party of Wales Mid and West Wales AM Simon Thomas said:

“As winter approaches, families are finding it more difficult than ever to pay for their heating bills, yet energy companies are reporting enormous profits. We cannot protect Welsh consumers from price rises without obtaining further energy powers and the ability to regulate the energy market in Wales.

“It is clear that something needs to be done. It isn’t fair that Welsh consumers pay 5 or 10 per cent more for their energy than other UK regions. We have heard allegations of price fixing at a time when figures also show that there are thousands of excess winter death each year. If energy companies are found to have been price-fixing then there will be serious questions for them to answer about those excess deaths.

“The Party of Wales is convinced that the devolution of powers over energy is the only way to protect Welsh customers from the unfair practices in the energy market.

“But we also want the Welsh Government to use the powers it already has to help more people. Through extending the Arbed scheme we could help more families bring down their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient – this could have a huge effect on their bills. Heating bills are one of the biggest worries that Welsh families are facing this winter, and a Party of Wales Government would do much more to help them.”

A pressing question remains, whether or not Carwyn Jones will actually trying to do something or anything about trying to develop our countries energy potential over the remaining years of their term in office? I suspect that the answer is going to be a resounding no! Sadly I suspect that he and his Labour in Wales government will sit quietly and do nothing merely waiting for the Westminster cycle to run its course and duly (they hope) return a Labour in Westminster Government – what a waste of time and (admittedly limited) opportunities.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


Homes fit for Heroes! Post war house building
Sadly it won't come as much of a surprise to even the most impartial observers that UK Government's have a tendency to treat former (and serving) service personnel badly. On occasion you may well be driven to wonder if anything has changed since 1918; once again our service personnel are serving in a distant land and their families live quietly at home in sub-standard accommodation.

Back in 1918 the solders that served through the First World War (some of my relatives amongst them) were promised 'Homes fit for heroes'. Oddly enough the last but one Conservative / Liberal Coalition found that honouring promises to live heroes cost too much (what price the sacrifice made at the front?) once the war was over it turned out that dead heroes were cheaper to honour than live ones - thus fell the Geddes Axe.

In the last one hundred years the only honourable exception to this roll of shame was the 1945 Labour Government which made significant efforts to help the veterans with access to education, jobs and decent housing, The other post war governments have quietly and consistently betrayed the military covenant and any promises to our service personnel (and former service personnel) have not been honoured.

Last week we observed another Remembrance Sunday, this one some 94 years after 1918 and we have a UK Westminster Government that is not honouring the military covenant. In 2012 we still find ourselves in a situation where soldiers families are living in sub-standard accommodation and our veterans get shoddy treatment for services rendered after completion of their service.

Last week Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd used a Parliamentary debate to stress the importance of the Military Covenant, expressing concern that it is not being enforced as robustly as possible in all areas. He warned that many veterans face isolation and suffering as a result.

Mr Llwyd, who has campaigned extensively for veterans' rights and chairs the Veterans in the Criminal Justice System Parliamentary Group fears that a postcode lottery is at work in which some veterans requiring post-service support are discriminated against purely as a result of where they live or how long ago they served.

He added that, although the majority of armed forces personnel adjust to civilian life normally after discharge, it is vital that those who do require care receive the utmost support in accordance with the Military Covenant, highlighting its importance as something which must be put into practice rather than merely exist in principle.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Llwyd said:

"While it is hugely encouraging that the Covenant has now been enshrined in law, it is vital that it forms the basis of robust action, rather than merely empty words.

"If this is not achieved - as I fear is happening in some cases at present - there is a real danger that some veterans face discrimination as a result of where they live or how long ago they served. This postcode lottery is wholly unacceptable and does a great disservice to those who have sacrificed so much for their countries.

"While the majority of armed forces personnel adjust to civilian life after discharge, unless the Covenant is practiced properly then those veterans who do need help face a whole range of problems such as isolation, lack of welfare support, mental health issues and in some cases, alcohol problems.

"The mere fact that a debate was held on this topic today clearly indicates that concerns exist over the Military Covenant's shortcomings.

"What we need is more resources to deal with mental health problems, greater recognition of the welfare needs of veterans, and urgent action to address the dependency on alcohol and other substances which many armed forces personnel develop.
  "These individuals have shown great commitment and sacrifice throughout their time in service and while recent years have seen positive developments in the field of veteran care, much more must be done in order to prevent more men and women falling into a downward spiral of suffering."

Friday, 23 November 2012


No end in sight for Tolls!
The UK (Westminster) Government has announced (via a written answer in Westminster) that commuters and drivers using the Severn Crossings will get hit by an inflation-busting toll rise of 3.3%. From January 1st cars crossing the Severn bridges on the M4 and M48 crossings will pay £6.20 – up from £6 this year. Stephen Hammond, the Con Dem Transport minister also revealed that the charge for vans and minibuses crossing the bridges will rise from £12.10 to £12.40 (2.5%) and from £18.10 to £18.60 (2.8%) for lorries and coaches.

The new toll levels will be confirmed in an order made by the Secretary of State in December While the Westminster Government has been happy to subsidize the Humber Bridge, which had its tolls reduced by 50% nothing has been done to reduce the impact of tolls on commuters, motorists and small to medium sized businesses based in Wales. Whether we have a New Labour or a Conservative run Government it should be pretty clear that Wales or Welsh interests are unimportant.

Barely a year ago, a major cross-party report revealed that the Severn Crossings had a yearly income of £72 million pounds but running costs of just £15 million pounds. The Welsh Affairs committee recommended that with tolls as low as £1.50 for the bridge to be self-financing.  Meanwhile in Scotland, tolls on the Skye Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge have all been scrapped.

The new toll increase have been revealed less than a fortnight after Labour in Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones demanded talks to transfer control over the Severn Bridge tolls to the Welsh Government. The UK Government ignored the First Minister and publically stated that there would be no change to ownership agreements which will see control of the bridges and the lucrative income from the Severn crossings go back into UK Treasury. News that the First Minister has half an eye on the income from the tolls which might be used to improve the M4 (and maintain the crossings) will bring no comfort to commuters and businesses as it suggests that there will be no end to the tolls.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has reportedly been on hunger strike for more than a month, appears determined to continue the act of protest indefinitely.

The lawyer's husband, Reza Khandan, has written on his Facebook page that Sotoudeh told him on November 20 that she was on an "unlimited" hunger strike.

"I asked her, 'How long will you continue your hunger strike?'" he wrote. "She said: 'The hunger strike is unlimited. You know what 'unlimited' means?'"

Khandan said he was allowed to meet Sotoudeh a day after she was transferred from solitary confinement to the general ward of Section 209 in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. He said that his wife's weight had dropped to 43 kilograms.

When he is allowed by the authorities to visit, Khandan has informed the public about the conditions of his jailed wife via Facebook, which has in recent years become a platform for news that is censored or ignored by the state-controlled media.

Nasrin Sotoudeh (Courtesy Photo)
Sotoudeh, who was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this year, defended political activists, opposition members, and juvenile offenders on death row before she was jailed in September 2010.

She was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from working as a lawyer for 10 years on charges that include acting against Iran's national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic regime.

Sotoudeh's courage and outspokenness have earned her the respect of many inside and outside of Iran and turned her into a symbol of resistance against the establishment.

A mother of two, Sotoudeh reportedly stopped eating in mid-October after prison authorities prevented her relatives from visiting her. Her husband and 12-year-old daughter have also been barred from leaving Iran.

"I can't sit here and do nothing and let them do whatever they want with my child and family," Sotoudeh was quoted by her husband as saying in their prison meeting this week.

An October 24th editorial in "The Guardian" compared Sotoudeh to Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also once separated from her children.

Iranians wanting to express solidarity with Sotoudeh, whose first name means "jonquil"  in Persian, have posted images of that white flower on their social-media profiles in recent weeks.

Source: Golnaz Esfandiari (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Tax evasion! Surely not!
One way or another, tax evasion and tax avoidance is rarely out of the headlines especially as many heavily indebted governments are increasingly keen to hunt down every tax dollar / euro or pound that is owed. Considering that the Conservative elements of the Con Dem coalition government continues to looks slightly uneasy whenever tax avoidance and tax evasion comes up I cannot help wondering whether or not the National Audit Office report on tax evasion will make it out of George Osborne’s in tray.

A National Audit Office report has revealed that of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is struggling to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes is costing the UK billions of pounds in lost tax.  HMRC is faced with a backlog of 41,000 cases with potentially up to £10.2 billion pounds worth of evaded tax at stake. The National Audit Office (NAO) said tackling tax avoidance was difficult but HMRC had to do better. In the last two years HMRC has successfully challenged 40 tax avoidance schemes.

The NAO revealed that between 2004 and 2011 some 2,300 avoidance schemes were disclosed to the tax authorities, but as around 100 new schemes have emerge every each year. It has been estimated that there are potentially some 30,000 users of what are known as employment intermediary schemes and partnership loss schemes - where partnerships that make record a loss to shelter their other income from tax. The loss is artificially inflated via "circular loans" (or deferred expenditure) which are never actually incurred to exceed the amount actually invested in the partnership.

HMRC has tried to tackle the practice with enforcement action in a few “lead" cases, but investigations can take years to resolve and any rulings cannot always be applied successfully elsewhere.  Despite this since April 2010, HMRC has been started 110 avoidance cases and despite being successful in the vast majority of cases where judgements have been reached the NAO suggested that there was no evidence that litigation was proving an effective deterrent to tax evasion and avoidance.

Tax evasion is only part of the problem, as Tax Research UK estimated that the Exchequer loses out to the tune of £64 billion pounds per year through shadow economic activity, which is 16 times larger than the estimated £ 4 billion pounds that the UK Government misses out on due to tax evasion. That works out at roughly about £1 pound out of every £8 in the economy.

Despite this the Con Dem Government continues to pursue a reckless slash and burn (cut) approach to the public sector. They have reduced the number of staff in Revenue and Customs from around 100,000 to 65,000 and there are further plans to reduce the numbers to around 50,000 by 2015.

To expect the Tories or New Labour for that matter to seriously tackle tax evasion is perhaps a little naive as they are part of the problem. It would be a bit like expecting the Lib Dems to deliver on electoral reform or any of the three Westminster parities to have an honest debate about Party funding.

Perhaps the ordinary tax paying citizens just expect too much, I mean the UK Government continues to be heavily involved in aiding and abetting tax evasion worldwide via British Overseas territories (including the Cayman Islands). They help to hide some £ 1.6 trillion pounds from various nations’ tax authorities, and some of the city banks remain hand in glove with drug dealers, dictators and terrorists when it comes to money laundering. So clearly we are not all in it together.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


The Labour in Wales Government’s reaction to the report of the Silk Commission, which recommended limited tax varying powers be devolved to Wales, is somewhat subtle, if not unexpected. Carwyn Jones, First Minister, has said that there should be no question of the raising (or perhaps using) the power to vary tax rates being devolved until the unfair funding formula which ‘robs’ Wales of some £350 million pounds a year is reformed.

Oddly enough when in government from 1997 until 2010 the Labour Party (whether in Wales or Westminster) consistently refused to accept that Wales was underfunded and that there was any problem with the Barnet funding formula. Now in opposition and (despite the surface gloss) fairly hostile to the idea of devolving further powers to Wales (if not to the concept of Wales itself) things have somewhat unsubtly changed.

Sleeping soundly for Wales, because of the financial disaster left by the last Labour in Westminster Government, Carwyn can safely call for fair funding, in the knowledge that he won’t get it.  Loudly calling for something he knows Wales won’t get he can safely ignore the recommendations of the Silk Commission and focus our attentions on the fair funding issue. All well and good, save for the fact that Labour in Wales (and London) did precisely nothing to fix the problem of fair funding in Wales when they had both the power and the opportunity.

The Commission has recommended that control a number of smaller taxes be devolved to Wales including air passenger duty on long haul flights (a reduction of which could benefit Cardiff-Wales airport); stamp duty, the aggregates levy, landfill tax, and the full devolution of business rates, etc. I have no problem with any of that at all, or the devolution of the power to vary income tax by up to ten pence in the pound.

The failure to consider the devolution of corporation tax (unless it is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland) is in my opinion a missed opportunity. I welcome the proposed if limited devolution of borrowing powers for capital projects, current spending and tax revenue variation. The proposal to create a Welsh Treasury function for better financial accountability should also be welcomed if a little belated.

As for the referendum, Wales only got one last time because Labour in Wales had to pay that price to be in government. I have no doubt that whatever the Labour in Wales National Assembly manifesto includes for 2016 it won’t include any reference to the Silk Commission’s findings or another referendum. Labour has been consistently ambivalent on further powers and remains (however well camouflaged) decidedly ambivalent on the issue of devolution project.

The Commissioners, who have hitched the whole financial package to a further referendum, may have potentially brought the whole devolutionary process to a grinding halt. Any referendum cannot be held until it gets the support of a Welsh Government, two thirds of elected AM’s and the support of the Secretary of State – who may well be a Labour Party selectee by 2016

By 2016 the political landscape in Westminster may have changed - we could be a good year into another Labour in Westminster government who would by fairly indifferent to making parliamentary time for Wales related issues in their first year of office. By way of comparison, Peter Hain’s delaying tactics prior to the last referendum on legislative powers might pale into insignificance when compared to what the self-interested Labour in Wales parliamentary representatives might accomplish.

Yet perhaps if Labour in Wales found itself faced with the prospects of no majority (and no trimmings) in Cardiff Bay after May 2016 it would either be forced to choose between forming a minority government or going into coalition with Plaid of the Lib Dems (if there are any left by then). Post 2016 the political situation in the bay could be much more complicated with Conservative AM’s and a smattering of UKIP AM’s. So any chance of a rainbow coalition and a referendum will be entirely dependent (no pressure) on Plaid’s performance, with a new Leader and the desire to stand up for Wales – so there is everything to play for over the next three years.

Monday, 19 November 2012


Take a wander around most of our town centres and the out of town retail parks and with your own eyes you will see that impact of the ongoing recession in the rising number of empty shops. With this in mind the recent study produced by the British Retail Consortium which has revealed that the town centre vacancy rate (high streets and shopping centres) in the UK was 11.3% in October 2012 will come as no surprise. This grim statistic is this highest figure that the BRC has recorded since they began the Monitor in July 2011. The highest shop vacancy rates were recorded in Northern Ireland (20.0%), Wales (15.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (14.6%). The BCS has noted that these are the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011 and tend to confirm that financial challenges for both customers and business retailers are far from over yet.

It not just the local shops that are feeling the pinch, in my home town (where this has been going on for a while) and in more than a few other places even the old high street big names are bugging out, not necessarily because they are necessarily making a loss more that they trying to maximise their profits in the teeth of the recession and the growth of on-line business. Creating the conditions for a stable future for our town centres and high streets will not be easy, but we have to do something and relatively quickly. Obliterating or at least driving a coach and horses though the planning regulations will not provide a sustainable solution, ending business rates and replacing them with a local income tax might go some way towards giving local businesses a fighting chance of keeping their heads above water until the recession begins to end.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Here we go again - British Gas - owner Centrica is to raise its average prices by 6% from today (Friday 16th November 2012), they have stated that the price rises are due to costs that are out of its control. Meanwhile Centrica, with 15.8 million customers, says that required investments and measures to meet carbon reduction targets have added about £50 to the average bill. The company, which recently issued a trading update, stated that wholesale gas prices were now 13% higher this winter than last. The company will report its full-year profit figures in February 2013.

Centrica stated that average UK residential gas consumption for the first 10 months of 2012 was 9% higher than for the same period of 2011, while average electricity consumption was 1% lower. On Wednesday (14th November 2012) SSE (one of the UK's biggest energy suppliers) reported a 38% rise in half-year profits. They made £397.5 million pounds profit in the six months to the end of September, this compares with £287.4 million in the same period last year. SSE, along with most of the members of the big 6 energy cartel, raised its domestic gas and electricity prices by an average of 9% one month ago.

Plaid has long voiced its concerns over allegations that the 'Big Six' energy companies have been manipulating wholesale gas prices in an attempt to save millions of pounds. The allegations, brought forward by a whistleblower, are currently being investigated by City watchdog the Financial Services Authority, whose findings could trigger a crisis of confidence in the energy sector similar to that in the banking industry following the rate-fixing Libor scandal. Plaid is concerned that the people of Wales are suffering disproportionately as a result of the 'Big Six' monopoly due to the fact that they're less likely to switch energy suppliers and therefore receive higher bills than anywhere else in the UK.

Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said:

"These allegations against some of the 'Big Six' energy companies are deeply troubling and hold the potential to prompt a fresh crisis of confidence in yet another sector of British society.

"Just as was the case with the Libor scandal where the inter-bank lending rate was fixed, claims that wholesale gas prices have been manipulated raise serious questions over scrutiny and transparency.

"Most of the 'Big Six' energy companies are already under fire having declared intentions to push up their prices before the end of the year. This will see ordinary families having to keep an even closer eye on their budgets while the eldest and most vulnerable face an increasing risk of hypothermia or malnutrition as they're forced to choose between heating and eating.

"It is clear that the competitive market fails the neediest within our society. The Party of Wales believes that utilities should be operated on a not-for-distributable-profit model, like Glas Cymru, where profits are reinvested rather than pocketed by shareholders.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Luke Nicholas, Leanne Wood AM, Plaid leader  on the campaign trail
It seems like a long time ago now that I was selected to stand in Cardiff South and Penarth for the by-election on November 15th that is less than a week away.

It was only six months ago that I was stood, with my fellow candidates, in the Star Centre in Splott, watching the last round of votes being counted. We’d been up all night and just for a moment it looked as if we’d recorded a historic win for Grangetown in May’s council elections.

In the end we were only a couple of hundred votes short of winning those Council seats. All of our candidates actually gained more votes than the Councillors who had won the seats in 2008. So we were very close, but the statement was made; Plaid Cymru is becoming a major force in Cardiff and Penarth.

The Council elections had been hard work and it had taken a lot out of everyone. Many of us were looking forward to a period when we wouldn’t be fighting another election so we could get back to the everyday campaigning we do in the community.

But we had to pick ourselves up quickly. So we got organised and by July I was selected as the candidate. And I have to say, I’m glad that I was. I had been encouraged and asked by others to stand in the first place and their support was the deciding factor for me.

To stand in Cardiff South and Penarth for Plaid Cymru is a privilege that few people get to enjoy. The constituency is absolutely integral to the modern history of Wales and continues to be one of the most important and interesting areas of the country. This is a point the historian John Davies, like me a Grangetown resident, made to me very forcefully in May.

The Cardiff Docks and Penarth played a key role in the industrial revolution and the British Empire. The Empire is gladly over but its gift was that it brought new people to Wales who have enriched our culture. Muslims from Yemen who built the first mosque in the UK in Cardiff in the 19th Century, sailors from Somaliland (still an internationally unrecognised state) who worked on the coal ships, Gujaratis from Uganda who were fleeing Idi Amin and people from across the Indian sub-continent who are now proud to call themselves Welsh. And of course, many people from elsewhere in Wales.

Cardiff has always embraced newcomers but it remains a uniquely Welsh experiment. The Welsh have never lived like this before; so many of us together in one place; engaging with each other; socialising with each other; expressing new ideas with each other. There are new frontiers for the language too, which is now flourishing in a modern, urban and Welsh environment that it has never experienced before.

Nonetheless, Cardiff has significant problems. I’ve knocked on literally thousands of doors over the past few months but you only need to knock on a couple to realise that all is not well. The cuts being made to social security are beginning to have a devastating impact on the people of Cardiff and Penarth.

Many people here are close to losing faith in politics. The economic crisis, the Leveson inquiry, the injustice suffered by the families of the Hillsborough victims, and the general out-of-touch attitude of successive governments in Westminster - all have contributed to the breakdown in people's trust and faith in politics.

A layer of society now thinks that there is little point in voting - that there are too few differences between the so-called "major" parties. But what I’m telling people is that there is always a point to vote for Plaid because every vote for us is a statement that Wales does have a voice and we are going to use it to chose our own path. And I have to say, many people are agreeing and will be voting for us for the first time on November the 15th.

People are now discovering that Plaid Cymru has played a major part in reforming the constituency, despite having never held the seat. Our influence has in fact been felt across the whole nation. But a major problem in Wales is that we haven't had enough Plaid Cymru. We may have just achieved our highest ever popular vote in Cardiff, but there still remain parts of the city where we haven’t told people enough about the party. My job is to begin turning this around, a job which I am pleased to say is already very much underway.

What is so unique about Cardiff is its ability to keep reinventing itself and we as a party must do the same. Cardiff has gone from being one of the busiest ports in the world with Tiger Bay - to the home of Welsh democracy with the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay, all in less than a century. This is what inspires me about standing in this constituency, because I know that once again Cardiff South and Penarth will be at the forefront of reinventing Wales and Plaid Cymru will play a major part in this.

In the future we hope that Cardiff will be a modern, European capital; with clean, electrified railways that connect the south Wales region, an airport regularly connected to the city that brings in tourists and business people alike; jobs in green energy production and sustainable industries, a growing cooperative sector; and, of course, a culture that will continue to develop in our two national tongues, with contributions from many others along the way.

It’s building this future that drives me and this is why I’m standing in Cardiff South and Penarth.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


It started as a story in the Gruinad (The Guardian 13.11.2012) stating that the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, is now investigating claims by a whistleblower that the UK’s £300 billion wholesale gas market has been "regularly" manipulated by some of the big 6 power companies. The Guardian also notes that Ofgem (the energy regulator)  has been separately warned by a company responsible for setting so-called benchmark prices, ICIS Heren, that it had seen evidence of suspect trading on 28th September (this is end of the gas financial year) and gas prices on this date can have an important influence on future prices.

The claims suggest that dealers made unrealistic bids (on the 28th September) when information was being gathered to set the wholesale gas price, basically to suit their own trading position (maximise profits). The alleged manipulation is said to have reduced the wholesale price, and as such does not imply any knock-on impact on the retail price paid by customers. Later today the Con Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey will make a statement to the House of Commons later as regulators investigate claims that wholesale gas prices have been manipulated.

Now the wholesale gas market includes everything from the UK's own North Sea gas supplies, to gas from Norway or elsewhere, or arriving in the UK by ship as LNG, liquefied natural gas. Energy companies buy gas at the wholesale price and then sell it on to businesses and domestic users. The cost of wholesale gas makes up the majority of our energy bills - 45% of the average energy bill is made up of the cost of wholesale gas, supply costs and profit margins.

The whistleblower, who worked for ICIS Heren, flagged up their concerns after identifying possible attempts to distort the prices reported by the company. These prices are especially important because many wholesale gas contracts are based on them and even small changes in the gas price can cost or save companies millions. These revelations come at an unfortunate time for UK’s energy sector, with many of the big six suppliers (the cartel) under fire for alleged profiteering on household energy bills and mis-selling on the doorstep. So far four of the UK's big six energy suppliers have released statements denying any involvement.

When it comes to regulation of the energy market the silence from the Con Dem Government has almost deafening. In the heady days of opposition, back in October 2009 the then Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark (now Financial Secretary to the Treasury) stated that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms would be referred to the Competition Commission by a Conservative Government. He also  condemned the unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills and noted that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year.

An 'independent' investigation into the Energy Company’s refusal to pass on reductions in wholesale energy prices to customers would still be welcomed by many hard pressed energy customers. As would the promised 'Energy Revolution' which was supposed to overhaul the energy sector billing structure and charges.

In many ways it is somewhat ironic that we find ourselves here, as a Conservative Government started the whole sorry mess in the first place, by privatising the energy market in the first place. This threw any rational energy pricing structure upon the whims of the 'market' by allowing the newly privatised energy companies to price gouge customers in the first place and since the effective demise of any real competition in the ‘market place’ we have all been regularly fleeced.

As for any inquiry into irregularities in the energy market, it is worth noting that once in Government that was consigned quietly to the too difficult pile. The pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry (which has been subject to lengthy and repeated criticisms surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas) was quietly dropped by the Com Dem Coalition Government. So I won’t hold my breath.