Wednesday, 30 January 2013


The much publicised Westminster government's plans to extend the HS2 rail development to Manchester (Stage 2) has stirred up a whole range of reactions in England from approval to objections and much in between. This investment focuses on creating a high speed rail spine in England from London to Birmingham and then onto Manchester and Leeds.

The Scottish Government has rightly called for a "concrete timetable" to extend the HS2 high-speed rail network to Edinburgh and Glasgow, calling on the UK Department for Transport to clearly spell out when high-speed rail project would reach Scotland. Fair play to Scotland Now that’s fair enough but what about Wales, will we see any benefits (fringe or otherwise)? Over to the Welsh Government then... ?

Labour in Wales’s less than eloquent silence aside, the bottom line is quite simple if unionists want the union to work for all of its inhabitants then what’s Wales’s share of the investment in the transport infrastructure programme. The Westminster Government has to ensure that any investment in transport infrastructure must benefit the whole of the UK, not just England. If the unionists believe in fair funding for the constituent parts of the UK then Wales is owed a Barnett consequential of approximately £1.9 billion from the projected HS2 spend.

If David Cameron is serious about making the union work then it’s time that this Westminster Government to urgently review the flawed and unfair funding arrangements. The lack of investment (and lack vision) that exists when it comes to developing and improving Welsh transport links that goes way beyond the current (and historical) poor financial settlement. The electrification of the great western line from Swansea to Cardiff (and beyond) is significant but is long overdue.

The electrification of the Glasgow-London line was completed in 1974, if nothing else this highlights how far behind (if not out of sight and out of mind) we are in terms of any improvements to transport links. It is also worth noting that Liverpool has long had an electrified rail link to London and has scarcely benefited economically from it. The commitment to electrify the Valley lines is a major step forward, but, as yet Wales, Albania and Moldova have no electrified railways at all.

If we are serious about delivering reliable, effective and sustainable all weather communications to our communities then it’s time to consider reopening old railway lines to passenger and rail freight. Reopening the old railway lines between Llangefni on Anglesey, Caernarfon to Bangor, Aberdare and Hirwaun (in the Cynon valley) and Usk (via Little Mill) to the main line and between Builth Road to Builth would make a real difference.

Having a minor let alone a major infrastructure investment policy that functions outside of England would demonstrate that this Westminster Government is actually serious about making the union work for all its inhabitants. Investing in our public transport system would reduce carbon emissions and cut road congestion. Reopening and refurbishing our old railways and upgrading our existing lines for passenger and fright traffic could provide serious economic stimulation to the local economies and provide a real opportunity for our people.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


The latest GDP figures don’t make pleasant reading, showing that GDP fell by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2012, this should give further confirmation to most people (including economists) that the Con Dem Coalition Government’s questionable austerity experiment (Plan A) is clearly failing. This has prompted a flurry of calls for a change of approach (Plan B) from all quarters, including the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It’s time for the Chancellor to change course and announce radical growth measures in the Budget which takes place on 20th March.

Austerity is not just not working, it’s actually smothering any prospects of sustained recovery and economic growth. It’s time for some balanced well thought out investment in infrastructure and green energy which will help to create  jobs and provide the key to getting the economy back on track. Plaid Cymru has long advocated a progressive alternative to drastic public sector cuts (and their consequences) in order to stop the UK sliding back into recession and to avoid a whole decade of economic decline.

Plaid Cymru's Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP, said:

"These latest GDP figures signal the latest disaster for a Chancellor whose ideologically-motivated policies make him deaf to all warnings and cautions.

"Tackling the Government deficit and debt should only be done when the economy is growing and confidence is high. Current austerity is strangling any sustained recovery. 

"It looks increasingly likely that the cherished AAA credit rating is in jeopardy making the pain of the Government debt pointless. There is now a real threat of a triple-dip recession and the Chancellor has no choice but to change course.

"We must invest in infrastructure and focus on creating meaningful jobs if we are to get the economy back on track - this is what Plaid Cymru outline in our plans for a Bank of Wales to support SMEs and what we achieved in our recent Budget deal with the Welsh Government.

"Wales is suffering disproportionately as a result of the Coalition's austerity experiment. The Bevan Foundation recently announced that welfare cuts would wipe £100m from the Welsh economy. Real terms cut to benefits will suck demand out of local economies as ordinary families are forced to tighten the purse-strings even more.

"As the Chancellor announces his Budget in March, we in Plaid Cymru will present our alternative economic vision that would generate growth, tackle unemployment, and equip Wales with the powers necessary to have meaningful control over its own economy."

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Once again from one end of Wales to the other, in urban in rural communities we are bracing ourselves for yet another increase in petrol prices as fuel campaigners have warned us about the possible 4p per litre rise in petrol prices. The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) has called for a “full review" of the wholesale fuel market. Motoring organisations and small business organisations have backed the call for a review and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is due to report on whether reductions in the price of crude oil are being passed on to drivers.

Over the last few months we have lived though a relative lull if not a slight drop in petrol prices. Ironically the relatively recent arctic weather resulted in a drop in the demand for fuel across northern Europe and oil refinery bosses began moaning about their glut of petrol capacity". Wholesale costs have however risen by 5p per litre in the four weeks since Christmas. Oil prices reached $147 a barrel before the recession in 2008, but dropped to around $100 a barrel (March 2011), the barrel price currently stands at around $113 (25th January 2013).

Plaid Cymru has long favoured the introduction of a fuel duty stabilizer mechanism to regulate tax on fuel in order to mitigate the effects of high prices at the pumps, and for a fuel duty regulator to cap the price of petrol at the pump when it rises too quickly. Wholesale oil prices will inevitably rise over the next few years as the world economy re-builds itself in the face of an increasing demand for oil and all of us will pay for higher fuel prices directly or indirectly.

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd said:

 "Since the beginning of the recession, fuel prices have been one of the main sources of rising inflation yet the Chancellor has failed to tackle this problem, instead choosing to introduce tax-cuts for the rich and slash payments for the elderly.

 “Speculation that prices are set to rise by 4p a litre during the coming days is extremely worrying, particularly given the soaring costs of other essentials such as food and utilities.

"I am particularly concerned for rural communities in constituencies such as my own that are bearing the brunt of Government inaction on this issue. They are forced to spend significantly more on fuel than those in urban areas, and figures from the Office for National Statistics also show that poorer families spend more on their income on petrol than richer families.

 "Plaid Cymru have been pushing for a genuine fuel duty stabiliser for the past decade. It is hugely disappointing to see that neither the Labour nor Conservative governments in London have agreed to this common sense idea. This must change without delay."

Friday, 25 January 2013


Well yesterday Dave went and finally did it and has possibly set the stage for a referendum on the UK’s future in or out of Europe.  As David Cameron pledged to put renegotiated UK membership of the European Union to the electorate in a referendum sometime in 2017.  This of course works on two significant assumptions coming to pass; firstly the rest of Europe goes along with a renegotiation that the Brit’s never really objected to and secondly the Conservatives manage to win an outright majority at the next Westminster general election.

David Cameron
As for Cameron’s motivations, they may have more to do with the fact that his party is down in the polls and under threat from UKIP. As noted by the YouGov Poll for the Sun (dated 22nd January 2013) which suggests a Labour majority of 96 (pre speech) may have reared large in Tory minds. I suspect that any referendum debate if it ever occurs (the ‘if’ is significant) will not necessarily be clothed in any degree of rationality.

Even if all these things come to pass, I don’t expect any form of rational balanced sensible debate on Europe. I have little doubt that there will be a great deal of scare mongering, blatant inconsistencies and downright untruths about Europe in the run up to a referendum.  To gain an idea as to what a no campaign may look like then simply take a long hard look at the way the unionist NO campaign is playing out in Scotland.

UK Polling has noted that when it comes to referenda, polls consistently show that people support the idea of a referendum on Europe. They also reveal that people would like a referendum on almost any subject they get asked about. This flags up an interesting point, in that polls showing people approve of the referendum don’t necessarily mean that people think that it (whatever it may be) is an important issue and that they necessarily crying out for a referendum on that particular issue.

Of all the problems people face, ironically Europe comes pretty low down the list. UK Polling suggests that when asked what the important issues facing people themselves and their families, then Europe is even lower down. Yet, when it comes to Europe, my anecdotal experience on the doorstep and on the street is that a significant number of ordinary voters perceive the EU as a bad thing.

I for one believe that the EU which needs some serious reform (not just in relation to the common agricultural policy) and also needs to be fully democratic. Criticism aside the EU actually does some good and as has been noted elsewhere in a recent report published by Plaid MEP Jill Evans which shows that Wales is a net beneficiary of EU membership. The bottom line actually being that we in Wales get more out of Europe than we pay in to the tune of about £40 a year per person, yet most people don’t see it and tend to view Europe (if asked) as a problem.

Significantly, and somewhat alarmingly what many people in Wales appear to have missed is the fact that both the Conservative and the Labour parties are calling for an end to EU regional policy. Thanks to this Wales has been able to tap into structural funding to create jobs and build the economy in some of our poorest areas, as well as substantial agricultural support for our farmers in rural Wales.

Wales has received more than 2 billion pounds in EU structural funding over the past seven years not to mention other forms of financial support for example, for students, fisheries and small businesses.  What’s actually been done with the money is another issue! Perhaps if Westminster had actually worked for Wales and protected Welsh interests then we would never have needed or been eligible for European regional funding.

Over recent years UKIP has got away largely unchallenged by most political parties with peddling some right old tosh, as political parties have tried to stay away from Europe as it is perceived in some circles as a vote loser on the doorstep.  To blindly dismiss UKIP as some form of better dressed red in the face hyperventilating version of the BNP and to refuse to engage in as a serious and rational debate on the EU sets a dangerous precedent one that could have serious implications if we ever get to a referendum on EU membership.

That said, even amongst UKIP voters (when analysed in 2009) Europe came in as the fourth most important issue after the economy, immigration and crime. As late as December 2012, Lord Ashcroft noted that even amongst people considering voting for UKIP, the economy was one of their most important issues (68%), followed by immigration (52%), welfare dependency (46%),  Europe came in as the fifth most important issue (27%).

So the Conservatives, under pressure from UKIP and behind Labour in the Polls and with their increasingly uneasy Lib Dem coalition partners things could get spectacularly messy poll wise really quickly. Most people are more concerned with the economy, jobs, housing, the NHS, pensions, crime, etc – so if the Conservatives overly focus on Europe to the point of obsession… then they will end up looking even more out of touch to ordinary peoples real more pressing concerns.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


The call from Plaid for a new business bank for Wales to help small and medium sized businesses grow to reach their potential is a welcome one. At present many of our small and medium sized enterprises are  being denied credit by banks and this is stifling potential economic growth and the expansion of the private sector in Wales. Plaid’s economic commission is to investigate proposals for a Bank of Wales, to potentially run in the same way that the Sparkasse and Landesbanken (in Germany) which operate on a strictly regional basis to support local industries.

As noted elsewhere by the oggybloggyogwr; Germany has a unique network of state-owned, federal state-based (Länder) banks called Landesbanken. They offer a mix of commercial and private banking services and employ tens of thousands of people across Germany. They're primarily a source of credit and bonds for both public sector and private companies within their respective states. So the "big bank money" tends to be cycled within the state. That's probably one reason why economic disparities between regions aren't as pronounced within parts of the former West Germany as they are in a unitary state like the UK or France. 

Now to be brutally honest none of this is not a particularly new or radical idea, but, it may be a timely one, historically we once had a network of local banks focused on the drovers who moved livestock to sell in the larger export market. These were killed off as through the last quarter of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century’s financial services were increasingly amalgamated, centralised and  standardised in London. The process did little for local entrepreneurs, business people and (certainly latterly) has done little for ordinary bank customers as banks have been increasingly run to serve their own needs rather than those of the people.

Alun Ffred Jones AM, Plaid Shadow Economy minister said:

“Plaid Cymru is ambitious for Wales – we want to see more business and economic growth throughout the country, creating jobs and improving skills.

“However, what I hear from businesses up and down Wales, and supported by surveys from the FSB and other business representatives, is that small businesses are still finding it difficult to get funding to help with their cashflow and to develop their future growth plans.

“It isn’t a problem which is unique to Wales, and the problem is commonly recognised, but the various credit proposals from Westminster haven’t provided the solution.

“In fact, all too often, we hear stories from business owners that have had to use their credit card to finance their growth plans because distant banks are cutting back on capital and unwilling to commit to plans to improve Wales.

“Private sector growth is vital to our economic recovery.

“Wales therefore needs to have a bank which operates on similar lines to the German Sparkasse and Landesbanken that operate on a geographical basis, developing special expertise in the local industries so that they are better equipped to make investment decisions.

“The Bank of Wales name was bought up by the Bank of Scotland and merged out of existence. It would be good if we could have that name back to use to benefit Wales, rather than it being left in a drawer, and being no good to anybody.

“Plaid Cymru’s economic commission will be investigating how we can make the banking system work better for Welsh business.”

During it’s relatively short life, what was known in some circles (to the intense irritation of Labour in Wales representatives) as the Plaid driven One Wales Government made significant efforts to act differently when it came to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs can and should play a significant role at the heart of our communities; they create wealth and sustainable medium to long term employment opportunities for local people.

Sadly since May 2011 the Labour in Wales minority government appears to have resurrected the old brain dead Welsh office model of economic development. Attracting branch factory operations of a relative short term duration does not help develop our economy. More than ever we really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.

As has been noted elsewhere profits and investments made by home grown locally rooted businesses tend to stay within the communities where they are based. So Plaid’s concept of new Bank of Wales business bank to help small and medium sized businesses should be warmly welcomed, as this is one realistic way of putting wealth into our communities, not to mention developing and sustaining longer term employment possibilities.

Monday, 21 January 2013


Plaid’s ‘Buy Local’ campaign which aims to raise levels of local public procurement, giving Welsh companies and Welsh workers more opportunities to benefit from public spending so that and their wages can circulate in the local economy. The latest figures show that only 52% of Welsh public spending goes to companies based in Wales. Value Wales has calculated that every additional 1% increase means 2000 more jobs in Wales. Improving Welsh procurement to reach 75% would mean an increase of 46,000 jobs in Wales. Plaid has rightly called for legislation in procurement best practice to help create almost 50,000 jobs in Wales. Scotland is consulting on legislation to ensure that best practice in some areas becomes common practice across the public sector.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said:

“Public sector procurement in Wales has had some great successes in recent years to make sure that our Welsh pound is spent on jobs and skills in Wales.

“For example, 80% of money spent on the Arbed programme for home and energy efficiency improvements goes to companies located in Wales.

“That money means food on the table and a roof over the head for skilled Welsh workers and their families, and more money circulating within the local economy to be spent down the high street at the butchers, the hairdressers and the bakers.

“In contrast, money which goes to firms outside Wales is lost to our local economies – and that’s every one pound in two.

“There are ways of improving this at all levels, and it needn’t cost more.

“For example, professionally trained and specialised procurement staff in local authorities, such as those introduced by Caerphilly Council when Plaid Cymru were in charge, can generate both financial savings for the council and secure local jobs.

“Another good example is where Gwynedd Council agreed that the slate for improving Bangor High Street must come from local quarries, supporting 200 jobs in Penrhyn Quarry.

“However, the figures alone show that we can do better.

“If we can improve our procurement practices to increase from 51% to 75% of Welsh public spend to go to Welsh companies then that could create almost 50,000 jobs in Wales.

“The McClelland Report released last Summer suggested that, if best practice wasn’t being followed, then we should be legislating to make it happen.

“The Party of Wales believes that this legislation should be brought forward to ensure that this becomes common practice, not best practice.

“Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans has also called for the EU to simplify and relax their procurement rules to help Welsh businesses.”

For once Wales has been ahead of the curve (even if Labour’s elected representatives in Wales have been dragging their collective feet), as this is something that was recommended to the Welsh Government last summer by the  McClelland Report for the Welsh Government. I think that it is perfectly reasonable for the Welsh Government to take action to ensure that a greater percentage of that money can be spent locally in Wales. If you are going to spend public money then you need to work it extra hard and make sure you get real value for money. At local government level our local authorities spend around £4 billion pounds (April 2012) worth of our money buying goods and services. A target of 75% of the public sector spend, being spent here in Wales, is an excellent idea, as it means that  around £3 billion pounds of tax-payers money staying in Wales.

Back in July 2010 a survey commissioned by the National Assembly Government reported that almost half of all food and drink bought by schools, hospitals and local authorities in Wales was of Welsh origin, and the amount of locally-produced food bought by the public sector had risen by 65.8% in the last six years. The 2010 Welsh Public Sector Food Purchasing survey revealed that Local authorities had increased their purchases of local food by 90.5% in the previous six years. Key categories included bread, milk, fruit and vegetables, ready meals, soft drinks, dairy products and water.

The NHS (in Wales)  purchased 69% of the food and drink products in Wales, when it comes to milk on average, 50.9% of all the milk purchased by Welsh local authorities for schools was locally-produced. When it comes to Welsh purchases in higher education, accounted for 41.3% in 2009, compared with 28.7% in 2003, in the field of further education some, 39.6% of purchases were of Welsh origin, up from a previous figure of 16.8%. The survey reveals that the only organisations to have bought less Welsh food than previously were the MoD and the Welsh Police Forces, which saw a 0.4% decrease in Welsh origin purchases.

The process should build upon Local Sourcing Action Plan’s and should lead to real social, economic and environmental benefits for all our communities by retaining the money spent in the local economy. This is sustainable development as local investment can provide a range of benefits across the whole of Wales benefiting local farmers, local suppliers and producers and local people. This should also be a reduction in food miles, and reduced carbon emissions to help fight climate change. Plaid is right to pledge action to ensure that more of that money remains in local economies, this is a home win for Wales.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


The Conservative dominated Westminster government is running the risk of creating a perfect storm within our police service by cutting starting salaries for new police officers.  This comes on top of budget cuts that have forced many forces to freeze recruitment, and reduce officer and civilian support staff numbers with redundancies. There will be consequences including a shortage of younger and older officers and a reduction in front line services as civilian support staff are also reduced in number.

Many police forces across the UK are already under severe pressure, as they attempt to balance budget cuts and a drop in personnel while simultaneously trying to maintain a high standard of policing and ensuring public safety. On Tuesday the Home Secretary announced that police officers' starting salary will be cut by 17% to £19,000. This is the latest of series of assaults on funding for public services which are ill thought out and ill-timed.

The Con Dem government’s unsustainable budget cuts and proposed changes in working practices will threaten to undermine the morale of hard-working officers in every force in England and Wales.  Our police do a superb and difficult job but both the reputation of our police services and the safety of communities may be put at risk. The Con Dem London government’s priorities are clearly driven by ideology, rather than principle.

We have reached a historic low when it comes to this Westminster Government’s absolute lack of respect for the police service and a complete lack of understanding for the important role our police play in our communities and society. The short term decisions made by this Westminster government will have far-reaching and potentially long lasting consequences by making it more difficult for the police to ensure that they are able to deal with crime and public order.

One unforeseen consequence of Police budget cuts may be a boost to the not so secret Conservative privatisation agenda – back in February (2012) G4S a private security company signed a deal to design, build and run a police station in Lincolnshire. This agreement between G4S and Lincolnshire Police was the first of its kind in the UK and may hint at the future of policing as it is envisaged by Cameron’s Conservatives.

As part of the deal, around two-thirds of civilian support staff employed by the force is to be transferred across to the private sector. This contract might possibly save Lincolnshire Constabulary around £20 million pounds but at what cost over the medium term to support staff terms and condition and the provision of services to the public.

This probably a step too far for most people, but, despite any mutterings to the contrary from Labour in Wales’s representatives in Westminster our Police forces here in Wales are in my opinion acutely vulnerable to back door privatisation and further potential cuts in funding and services. The sooner Policing and Criminal Justice are devolved to Wales the better for all of us as this would strengthen the democratic process and protect our police services and our communities.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


David Cameron is currently between devil and the deep blue sea over Europe, what with pro European and less than pro European Conservatives putting in their two euros worth and UKIP appealing to his right wing. On top of this he has to continue to appease his pro European Lib Dem coalition partners and also has to try not irritate or annoy his Americans Allies and the UK’s other European partners.

Last Wednesday the US Assistant Secretary of European Affairs, Philip Gordon, effectively issued a public warning that the US wanted to see a continued strong UK voice within the EU. The make things worse, some members of a cross-party delegation from the Bundestag's EU Affairs committee handily visiting London also expressed the view that a British departure from the EU could damage relations with Washington for both London and Brussels.

Europe - a Conservative self inflicted wound?
We have come a long way from the days of ‘Call me Dave’,’ I am sure that Dave could do without all these interventions, he and some of the other Euro sceptics might wish (quietly) that everyone else mind their own business. Now perhaps ironically he may begin to understand how the Scots and the Catalans feel in regard to outside intervention in their referendums on their constitutional futures.

Privately I suspect that PM no doubt hopes the whole thing EU membership thing can be put to bed until after the next Westminster election in 2015, preferably without having to commit publically to any real meaningful referendum.  The PM’s problem is that he is facing pressure to hold a referendum on Europe during the next Parliament and has gone so far as to say that the Conservatives will offer voters "real change" and "real choice" on the UK's position in Europe at the next Westminster election.

Things can only get better?
Any referendum on Europe is dependent upon a variety of factors: it will happen if the Conservatives will a working majority in the next Westminster Parliament so that they are not dependent on the Lib Dems . Even then it’s not plain sailing as Cameron has then to persuade other European countries  (including Germany and France) that there is a clear need to change the last EU treaty.

It is also worth noting that also any post 2015 referendum will also be dependent upon the Conservatives being able to get what they want in any negotiations with the EU. And finally any European referendum is dependent upon David Cameron believing that he can win it (which pretty much will confirm that whatever the question may be it won’t be a simple yes (in) or No ( out) choice. Unless those conditions are all met there won’t be a referendum.

We lived in a different world, the last time the electorate was given a vote on Europe was in 1975 (I was 9) - on referendum day the Sun editorial called on people to vote to stay in the then Common Market. The last thing the Conservatives, the Lib Dems or the Labour Party in Westminster want to end up doing is to give the electorate anything like an meaningful debate (or choice) on Europe, whether in, out or shake it about, they would far rather discuss it behind closed doors in Westminster and keep the electorate at arm’s length.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


As elements of it directly affect Wales and as far as it goes, I cautiously welcome the new Network Rail modernisation programme which was announced last Tuesday. The electrification of the Great Western line from Swansea to London is the commitment to extend electrification to some of the Valley lines into Cardiff. Some £ 350 million pounds worth of investment has been allocated to electrify the Valley lines into Cardiff.

I have serious concerns about the apparent exclusion of the final stage of the Ebbw Vale line into Abertillery and into Newport from the plan and the timescale. The Network Rail plan suggests that even its somewhat limited Valley lines electrification programme will not be completed until around 2020. From an economic point of view it would make more sense to commence work on the Valley lines electrification programme as soon as practically possible.

What missing as far as I can see is any real element of reopening old (or building new) railways as has happened in Scotland. In Wales in the last thirteen and half 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 (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008).

These were administrative rather than legislative projects, and but for the existence of the National Assembly it is unlikely that they would have been hauled up from where they lingered on Network Rails’ priority list.  The National Assembly, has been (with a few exceptions) been pretty muted when it comes to making the case for rail. This has not been the case in Scotland, where bills to reopen old railways have been vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act which came into effect in February 2006 gave the National Assembly powers (if not the political will) to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, how much longer do we have to wait to see some vision? In the meantime the rail companies have been busy continuing to ramp up rail fares and attempting to reduce rail services (they have been thwarted in the later endeavour by some well organised local pressure groups in the case of Severn Tunnel and Chepstow in South East Gwent). All of these things have been done with the tacit co-operation of various Westminster Governments and the Department for Transport (in London).

Such duplicity has never been acceptable – it would be nice if the government in Cardiff woke from its self induced slumbers and took the long term view, and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of its transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the franchise when it is renewed in 2017 needs to be run on a not for profit basis.

The creation of a not-for-distributable-profit organisation to run Welsh railways is vital; profits would be available to invest in rail services. This could mean more frequent services in the South Wales valleys, more frequent journeys to West Wales and on the Cambrian line, as well as additional services between the north and south of Wales. This could also mean more investment in new rolling stock to help keep pace with increasing passenger demand.  Now, the clock is ticking as most of the preparatory work for the re-franchising needs to be undertaken during the current Assembly term, so that a delivery model that is better suited to the needs of the people in Wales rather than the shareholders dividend can be developed.

Here in the south east, Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Severn Tunnel railway stations should be real local transport hubs, with fully integrated local bus services. Better facilities for passengers are needed and the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities is urgently required. A feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station west of the town of Usk would benefit local commuters and rail travellers and reduce congestion.

The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic (and timber shipments) would also help, as would a feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads. Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local residents and reduce the ever increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. One real local priority is the completion of the final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport needs to be completed and railway stations at Caerleon, Llanwern and Magor would all help to reduce road congestion.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the way that Iceland has dealt with the consequences of the worldwide financial collapse. Iceland has worked to reduce (or cut) its dependence on the banking and finance sector of its economy, recognising that this sector is essentially unproductive, essentially short term in outlook and draws talented people away from more productive parts of the economy.

Iceland faced with the collapse of its major banks (in 2008) something that threatened to drag the state’s public finances down. The Icelandic Krona fell 50% against all major currencies, as unemployment roared up to 10% (not forgetting that this in a country where it had previously been negligible) and money flew out of the country at a truly scary rate.

The financial storm was weathered with capital controls (something the European Union Single Market prohibits) to stop the disappearance of cash. Around 100 new taxes were brought in and public spending slashed to the bone. Iceland borrowed money from its Scandinavian neighbours and the International Monetary Fund.

The one big difference was that Iceland let its privately owned banks, which were directly responsible for the crisis in the first place, die. Despite years of bullish talk from the City of London at the first sign of real trouble most (but not all) of the big boys went whining to Westminster for a bailout (which they got). In my opinion we would have been better off if Westminster had said no, you want to life by the market then you can die by it too! In Iceland’s case this meant that investors lost everything it crucially meant that taxpayers were not burdened with their banking debt.

Oddly enough in the darkest depths of the economic crash, following the collapse of the financial sector Icelandic businesses found that they had few problems when it came to recruiting highly skilled graduates. Iceland's businesses had previously struggled to recruit skilled graduates as they were being attracted to the bonus-paying banks, with the demise or reduction of that essentially unproductive sector they found the scientists, IT graduates and engineers that they required.

Any nation’s primary resource should be its people, this is something that Iceland, but not every state has recognised. Iceland is also blessed by a handy supply of cheap clean energy – something that reduces the country’s dependence on imported oil and gas. Around 99% of the Iceland’s energy needs are supplied from hydroelectric sources or hot thermal springs.

There are even proposals to export this renewable power via cables under the sea to Denmark or even Britain. This abundant cheap energy has brought financially important industries (and jobs) such as aluminium smelting, which uses significant quantities of electricity to convert bauxite (shipped in from Australia) into aluminium products in the country.

The Icelandic people have still paid a hard price for the financial collapse with renewed emigration and austerity, but, the country has just gone through the seventh straight quarter of economic growth (averaging at 2.5%) this is something most European governments would give their hind teeth for. Additionally Icelandic unemployment has dropped to slightly just under 5% something that suggests that a degree of economic confidence has returned – can we say the same here?

One significant difference between Iceland and the rest of the world is the fact that some of the bankers and the politicians responsible for the economic disaster ended up being charged for it (and in some case duly convicted). In the immediate aftermath of the crash, as the country's unemployment rate and inflation in Iceland sky-rocketed all hell broke loose on the political front. There was a huge wave of angry public protests and the then Prime Minister Geir Haarde’s government fell in 2009 and the former PM was duly charged with negligence and got his day in court.

Icelandic democracy remained vibrant despite the economic crash, in the March 2010, Icelandic voters rejected overwhelmingly via a referendum the proposal to pay the UK and the Netherlands 4 billion euros (£3.4 billion) they lost when the Icesave bank collapsed. In December 2010, Iceland the UK and the Netherlands agreed a new repayment deal. The country's parliament (in February 2011) voted yes to a new plan to repay the UK and the Netherlands for reimbursing 400,000 citizens who lost their savings in the collapse of Icesave's parent bank, Landsbanki.

Iceland's president, Olafur Grimsson, duly put the deal to a public vote. Back in April 2011, the voters of Iceland once again rejected the repayment deal in a referendum.  The Icelandic citizen’s view was that they should not be made to pay so much for their banks' bad decisions. Now this is a feeling that I suspect is shared by most of us, save for our elite who are busy making the rest of us pay off their mistakes and the mistakes of their friends in the City.

What are the real lessons from Iceland for Wales or anywhere else for that matter? Don’t let your economy get driven by a voracious and grossly irresponsible financial sector might be the first. Invest in the skills of your workers might be another lesson. Don’t be dependent upon imported energy suppliers and develop and retain control of your own sustainable renewable energy resources, we may not have hydrothermal power resources but we do have significant potential for developing renewable energy (onshore and off shore) which could provide us with a good reliable base for a sustainable economic future.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Plaid Cymru Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP, warned that the Welfare Uprating Bill, debated in the House of Commons yesterday, will create lasting and disproportionate damage to the Welsh economy and widen the wealth gap between the nations and regions of the British state. Plaid  has repeated its call for investment in growth and the creation of meaningful jobs to counter the demand that's being sucked out of the economy as ordinary people are forced to budget more and spend less in their local areas. The Westminster based Labour and Tory parties' obsession with out-flanking each other on the right means that the real challenge of dealing with the underlying causes of unemployment and poverty are simply being ignored. The debate was a clear and simple reminder that the interests of the Welsh people and Wales will never feature high among Westminster’s priorities.

On Tuesday, Plaid Cymru Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP said:

"There is no question that the proposals included in the Welfare Uprating Bill will have a disproportionate impact on the nations and regions outside the South East of England.

"Wales will be hit particularly hard as a far greater percentage of our population are recipients of Tax Credits and/or benefits.

"Therefore, the real-term cut in these entitlements will inevitably have a dramatic effect on the amount of money spent in local economic across Wales, clearly highlighting the entirely self-defeating nature of the Coalition's economic experiment.

"In recent years, we have seen a significant drop in how benefit rises are calculated - from RPI to CPI to just 1%. Against a backdrop of soaring prices for daily essentials such as food and fuel, this change has created a devastating spiral of decline that is polarising wealth across the British State at both regional and individual level, and institutionalising poverty and unemployment in many areas.

"The Bevan Foundation has today announced that over £100m will be lost from the Welsh economy in benefits payments alone if this flawed Bill is passed. This will be a significant blow to local economies throughout Wales and will inevitably hit local cash circulation.

"Plaid Cymru has recently delivered on its promise to create thousands of apprenticeships in Wales and repeatedly called for the immediate implementation of the Silk Commission recommendations. The economy remains our main priority and we will continue to offer progressive plans that challenge Westminster's destructive agenda."

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Driver training on the Gaer spur (Photo: Ian Brewer)
News that the bus link from the Ebbw Valley railway line to Newport city centre will be extended by two months is of some significance. The bus service was launched in January 2012 and initially was due to run for a year as a pilot. The Welsh Government has agreed an extension to the service that runs between Rogerstone and Newport railway stations until March 31st.

There have been loud persistent calls (for the best part of ten years) for the completion of the long promised permanent rail link from the Ebbw Vale into the City but no concrete action.  The bus service, run by Stagecoach which is timed to connect with trains from Rogerstone, was funded for its initial year at a cost of £119,000 by the Welsh Government. Between January and July 2012 barley 700 people had used the service (South Wales Argus).

It’s time for the Welsh Government to commit resources to completing the final link into Newport something that would benefit a wider area as services could be run off peak between Abergavenny and Ebbw Vale, servicing the valley lines into Newport. What concerns me is that the token gesture bus service may be designed to fail, no enough people use it, something that the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff may use as evidence to suggest that there is no demand for the service. I have real concerns that the electrification (something that is long overdue in my opinion) of the Great Western Line between Swansea and London may also be used as an excuse for inaction. There has been enough talk, the time for excuses is passed, its time to get the job done, once and for all.

Friday, 4 January 2013


Across the other side of the pond tax evasion remains an important issue, on this side of the pond you get the impression that the Conservative part of the Con Dem Westminster government just hopes it will quietly go away. As a direct result of the US government’s pursuit if tax evaders Switzerland's oldest bank is to close permanently after pleading guilty in a New York court to helping US citizens evade paying their taxes. The Swiss bank, Wegelin (established in 1741) will pay $57.8 million dollars (£36 million pounds or 44 million euros) in fines to US authorities.

Once the fine has been paid then Wegelin will cease to operate as a bank. The bank had accepted that it had allowed more than 100 American citizens to hide something close to $1.2 billion dollars from the Internal Revenue Service for nearly 10 years. Wegelin, based in the small Swiss town of St Gallen, was started 35 years prior to the US declaration of independence. It is the first foreign bank to plead guilty to tax evasion charges in the USA. In recent year other Swiss banks have taken steps to prevent US citizens from opening offshore accounts to avoid paying tax.

US President Obama was 100% right to suggest that the governments of the world should jointly tackle the issue of tax evasion and tax havens. The problem is that successive Westminster Governments are involved in tax evasion and indirectly support tax evaders, as a significant proportion of tax evasive activities revolve around the UK Crown Dependent territories. By tackling the tax havens, the tax avoidance and the questionable dealings of the derivative traders, hedge funds and the off balance sheet trading then we might go so way towards dealing with the consequences of the worldwide financial crash.

I am shocked to discover that there is tax evasion here?
However, I suspect that nice Mr Cameron and the other 18 millionaires in the cabinet will do nothing to close the tax loopholes – so much for all of us being in it together? Perhaps it's just that we are ordinary taxpaying citizens just expect too much from government.

As the UK Government continues to be heavily involved in aiding and abetting tax evasion worldwide via British Overseas territories (including the Cayman Islands) and will actively fight in Europe to prevent open and transparent accountability and regulation for the City of London but won't chase up tax evaders.

Expecting the Tories or the party formerly known as New Labour to seriously tackle tax evasion is perhaps a little naive as they are part of the problem. The Lib Dems might deliver on electoral reform or any of the three Westminster parities to have an honest debate about Party funding before tax evasion is dealt with. Westminster helps to hide some £ 1.6 trillion pounds from various nations’ tax authorities, and some of the city banks are hand in wallet with drug dealers, dictators and terrorists when it comes to money laundering. Hmmm...Over to you then George...

Thursday, 3 January 2013


Signs of progress
North of the border there are signs of real progress as work on rebuilding the Borders Railway (at a cost of £294 million (in 2012 prices) is set to start in the New Year. The successful conclusion of this project will re-establish passenger railway services for the first time since 1969 from Edinburgh through Midlothian to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. In 1969, the historic Waverley line which connected the Scottish Borders to the national rail network was closed as part of a wider series of savage cuts to British Railways.

The closure led to a persistent campaign for a return of rail to the region that never failed or diminished in its intensity. The construction of the 30 mile railway, complete with seven new stations will deliver major economic and social development opportunities and offer a fast and efficient railway service. Trains will run every half hour at peak times and journey times between Tweedbank and Edinburgh will take less than one hour.

Driver training on the Gaer spur (Ian Brewer)
The reopening of the long closed Waverley line in Scotland is a real achievement and shows what’s possible when there is a will. Where is the Welsh commitment to projects to develop and reopen our railways. Locally the Labour in Wales government cannot even commit to the long promised completion of the Ebbw Vale to Newport railway  line, where the track remains in place less improvements to signaling.

The completed rail project should bring inward investment for local communities plus approximately £33 million pounds worth of benefits for the wider Scottish economy. Some 400 jobs will be created and supported through the construction phase and the new rail link should act as a catalyst for increased business development and housing opportunities within easy commuting distance of Edinburgh, as well as providing access to jobs in Edinburgh for local people.  Well done Scotland!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


The news that the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff never even asked the Westminster Government about the Severn Bridge tolls should not really surprise anyone and will bring no comfort to Motorists travelling from England to Wales on the Severn bridges who (as of 01.01.2013) now pay £6.20 – up from £6 from 2012. The cost for vans and minibuses travelling west rose from £12.10 to £12.40 (2.5%), and from £18.10 to £18.60 (2.8%) for lorries and coaches.

Plaid Cymru submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport seeking details of any correspondence between it and the Welsh Government on the level of tolls since May 2011, the last Assembly elections. In its response the Department of Transport merely listed emails between the Highways Agency and the Welsh Government advising of planned increases in tolls for 2012 and 2013. The FOI request revealed that there was no other correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government – so much for standing up for Wales!

Plaid Cymru Transport spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP said: “The lack of complaints over the continued rise of the Severn Bridges tolls once again shows that the Welsh Government are crying crocodile tears when they complain about motorists’ rising costs.

“The tolls rise annually according to RPI inflation index under an Act of Parliament from 1992. This is higher than the CPI inflation which has now become the norm for inflation, such as pensions upratings – so it is not even the fairest form of inflation.

“While the UK Government have been happy to rip up parliamentary acts for S4C that operated on the same inflation increase basis, they aren’t willing to touch the Severn Bridges – and the Welsh Government haven’t even asked them to consider it.

“Other companies and investments have been forced to take the economic situation into account in recent years and many will tell you about the problems that the tolls cause them.

"But for south Wales motorists the tolls keep rising. I’m sure that neither the UK or Welsh Government have even considered entering into discussion with the private company who owns them to lower the tolls during these tough times.

"In a few years, though, the cost of the Severn Bridges’ construction will have been repaid and the bridges will come back into public ownership.

"Major decisions will have to be made about the Bridges’ future ownership – by the Welsh Government, the UK Government or some form of joint ownership and, depending on who holds the purse strings, the amount that motorists will pay in tolls in future.

"It is vital that the Welsh Government take a more proactive stance in supporting the Welsh economy."