Thursday, 28 March 2013


The report by the McKay Commission suggested that English-only laws need to be backed by a majority of MPs who represent English constituencies and that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs could see their roles reduced if proposals to give English MPs more say on laws for England are eventually brought in. The Con Dem Westminster government said that it will give the report "serious consideration" this may well be Westminster speak for kicking it into the long grass.

The McKay Commission was set up to examine how MPs should deal with English legislation in the wake of devolution. For some time there has been a potential problem over what’s been known as West Lothian Question - the ability of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs to vote on England only matters - for several decades, but this has intensified of late as a result devolution.

Back in 2004, support from Scottish and Welsh Labour in Westminster MPs meant that the then Blair government could push through the introduction of university top-up fees in England. The McKay Commission has concluded that the current situation is "unsustainable" and that changes were needed. The Commission has proposed the principle that House of Commons' decisions that involve a "separate and distinct effect" for England should "normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs sitting for constituencies in England".

The same principle would apply for decisions that affected only England and Wales. The Commission has recognised that while Westminster law-making had inevitably come to focus on England, or England and Wales the actual processes for making law at Westminster have not significantly changed or taken account of the developments of devolution.

Understandably people in England are unhappy about the existing arrangements and may support some changes to the Westminster legislative process. English people are beginning to fell disadvantaged and understandably have concerns that MPs who represent the devolved nations are able to vote on matters that directly affect England but not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Clearly the status quo is unsustainable and there is a clear need to sort out the problem of all England legislation

Even the Party formerly known as New Labour (and Ed) has recognised the problem and have made tentative efforts to embrace the political elephant in the room that is Englishness and they have admitted that they (Old and formerly New Labour) have apparently been somewhat reluctant to talk about the sleeping elephant (in the room) at the heart of the UK - Englishness. There is more, apparently they have decided that the issue of national identity (English or British perhaps?) should not be a closed book.

Last year in a keynote speech on ‘England’ Miliband managed to hit his thumb squarely rather than the head of the nail, saying that Britain should be a country "where it always possible to have more than one identity" and people should not have to choose between being British, English, Scottish or Welsh. The acknowledgement of "multiple allegiances" potentially raises some interesting questions about national identity and effectively accepted that Labour had done its best to try to avoid having to articulate a vision of Englishness.

Plaid has long called for a partnership of equals, but it is pretty clear that Ed's current position on the English question is that they do not deserve their own Parliament. Not unsurprisingly the party formerly known as New Labour, has done its best to largely ignore the thorny matter of the West Lothian Question and English votes on English laws, perhaps hoping the problem will go away.

Labour’s failure, may remind older participants in the devolutionary process of not so long ago, of typical old Labour fudge. Labour is still apparently currently keen to continue devolving powers to local authorities in England, which is one way to fudge the issue and avoid calls for an England-only parliament to balance those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I suspect that based on the way labour plays the devolutionary game, I predict that this means that in about 10 to 15 years Labour will embrace the cause an English parliament....

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


So there we are then the 18th September 2014 with be the date on which the Scottish referendum will be held. I for on hope that Scotland votes for independence, believing that the Union as such is unsustainable and has passed its sell-by date. At the end of the day this is a matter for the Scottish people not the rest of us. As for the referendum I for one wonder whether David Cameron and the Westminster elite (I use the term loosely) will accept the result if the Scottish people vote for independence.

Let’s hope we don’t have any moving of goalposts on the part of the Westminster parliament. When it comes to referenda over sovereignty DC may do well to remember that you cannot pick and choose. Just as he has publically called on Argentina to respect the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands to remain British, the Prime Minister should clearly and publically state that he will respect the democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people.

In relation to the referendum campaign, some of David Cameron's interest may revolve about not ending up going down in history as the Conservative Prime Minister who lost Scotland. I have little doubt that much of his rhetoric (like most of the Unionists) in the Scottish referendum campaign will be designed to bully, frighten and patronize the Scottish people into voting No. As an outside observer of Scottish politics it would be easy to dismiss Cameron and the Westminster Tories (and their former New Labour and Lib Dem Unionist little helpers) as an irrelevance, especially after the near complete hammering they suffered in the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011.

David Cameron
Cameron’s first problem is that he actually believes that the Union he is waffling on about actually functions effectively. The reality is that the Union could be described as barely functioning; the British state is ceasing to serve or deliver for large numbers of people, in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As far as I can seen Scotland politics is now fundamentally different as are Scotland priorities and perhaps the Scottish people’s perception of their place in Europe and a wider world.

The harsh reality is that behind Cameron's sentimental pitch lies a desperate need for Scotland's oil - the Conservatives wasted millions (if not billions) in the 1980's funding tax cuts for the rich and subsidizing the disposal (systematic looting may not be too harsh a word) of state assets to their friends in the City. The pre Thatcher Labour Government failed to establish a wealth fund in which to store future anticipated tax revenues from the North Sea (as was the case in Norway and may possibly Scotland).

The Conservatives under Thatcher and Major just blew the money looking after their own vested interests, New Labour under Blair and Brown did nothing to change the situation and opportunities were wasted. Given a logical non emotive rational debate, freely reported in the media (and here I include the BBC which no doubt will struggle ineffectively to hide its bias) then we could be in for an interesting debate.

Cameron's second problem is that the inhabitants of these islands no longer live in the 17th and 18th centuries. The once perceived political necessities of curbing the divine right of kings, protecting Imperial trade, controlling Ireland and Scotland for historic strategic reasons and conceding the City (and its interests) a free hand in world trade are all ancient history. The Empire is long gone and any real perception (outside of the pages of the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Express and the Sun and some parts of the Conservative Party and UKIP) that the UK actually remains a real power and influence in the world died quietly at Suez in 1956.

Cameron's problem is that while he may be a nice chap there is a real danger that in the eyes of many Scots he manages to combine arrogance, ignorance and a lack of understanding of how the Union has actually worked and a basic understanding of how states actually work. Over time, peoples have combined, been conquered, formed, reformed, participated in and benefited from the existence of states, many of whom have been multi ethnic in nature. During the same period peoples have left failing states, established new states and re-established old states. It's actually part of the Human condition that's what we do.

The Union (as is) is no longer works, it is not delivering basic economic opportunities to people as individuals or as communities across significant parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Simply appealing to emotive sentiment and a rose tinted vision of what is effectively a long dead vision of the past just won't do and just won't work.

None of us can live off nostalgia; it won't butter any bread let alone buy any. We are in for an interesting few months as the debate on Scotland's future develops. Personally I think that the Scottish Government should call in international observers for the referendum to ensure that poll is a free and fair vote and any Unionist skullduggery or interference in the democratic process can be avoided. And David Cameron should clearly and publically state that he will respect the democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people.

Monday, 25 March 2013


There will be a public meeting to look at the future of the arts in Newport taking in the main theatre in the Riverfront in Newport on Wednesday 27th March at 6pm -8pm:

‘The Open Arts Meeting is a forum where people can discuss recent changes to the arts within Newport and consider the development of the Cultural Strategy within the city.

At a recent meeting The Arts Council stressed that there is a strong commitment to support the arts and development of the arts in Newport.

This meeting would be an opportunity for the arts community in Newport to discuss a way forward for the arts within the city and will hopefully strategise some clear actions that can inform the Council, as well as The Arts Council, of the future focus of the arts within Newport from the arts community itself.’

Sunday, 24 March 2013


With temperatures dropping yet again and a problem with one of the major gas (UK - Belgium) pipelines (it may have been closed for 1.4 days) there may well be a faint whiff of panic in the air. What with former (Climate Change) Ministers claiming (in the Radio 4 Today Programme) that the UK is down to less than 36 hours worth of gas supplies, it should be pretty clear by now that any UK strategic energy reserve leaves a great deal to be desired.

With the privatisation of the UK energy sector in the 1980’s it is pretty clear that any provision for future energy planning and provision was abandoned to the whims of the free market. A healthy gas reserve would not only cushion (domestic and commercial) customers from potential shocks, it would also potentially curb the prospects of fat profits on the members of ‘the big 6’ energy cartel. With little prospect of any effective regulation of excessive profits being ramped up it is clear that we are going to continue to get fleeced for a good few years yet.

As of March 2012 around two thirds of UK primary energy demand was met from domestic production. Coal accounted was barely 4% of final energy consumption by fuel in 2010. Almost all UK oil and gas production came from the seas that surround the UK. Peak oil (for the UK) incidentally happened in 1999, and Peak gas production took place back in 2000 - something which may explain the Unionist panic over the prospect of Scottish independence. Since then the UK has moved from a position of relative self-sufficiency to one of dependency on imported oil and gas.

By 2009, imported gas was around 32% of the total gas used. 58% came from Norway, 25% from liquefied natural gas (LNG) from various different countries, 16% came from the Netherlands, and 2% came via the Belgian interconnector pipeline. The increased reliance on imported oil and gas left the UK far more open to supply risks associated with global supply constraints and price volatility. The UK Government periodically punted plans to reduce the need for oil and gas imports, by pushing primary energy production, and by developing low-carbon alternatives such as electric vehicles, biofuels and fuel efficiency.

The writing is not so much on the wall as on TV, one Tuesday evening in February saw a TV first, the first airing of a Gazprom advert on UK domestic television advert – they sponsor the European Champions League.  Russia has periodically put the squeeze on gas exports to the Ukraine, (currently some 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the EU flow through the Ukraine) so the real dangers of relying on imported energy from unreliable sources have been clearly highlighted.

As for gas, some states have made efforts to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; France was able to store 122 days of gas and Germany able to store 99 days worth (2013 figures). Here in the UK the almost entirely market driven approach turned out to be entirely inadequate,  the UK has a storage capacity which would last for only up to 20 days (up from 15 days in 2009).

New Labour took the best part of a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity and the UK has been playing catch up ever since – and still little has been done to resolve the problem. One consequence of this lack of storage capacity is that UK had to sell gas during the summer and purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter. The Conservative’s headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s was accompanied by a complete if not abject failure when it came to strategic energy planning.

The situation has been made worse by the current Government's decision to somewhat half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources whilst pursing yet another dash for gas.
The last New Labour Government and the current Con Dem Government largely ignored repeated warnings that the lack of sustainable energy has set the UK on a path towards higher domestic energy prices and potential power blackouts. Over the next four to six years almost all of our old nuclear reactors, along with nine major coal and oil-fired power stations, will be run down and closed, with nothing ready to replace them.

We are now in the situation where we will become even more dependent upon imported gas from either unstable regions or dubious suppliers. The Con Dem’s solution to was to rush to go Nuclear and to effectively hand the Nuclear industry lock stock and barrel over to French energy companies who are busy paying off large loans to the French government. Anyway that was the plan, although the wheels seem to be still wobbling on that particular wagon as well.

Friday, 22 March 2013


It was more like a budget for an aspirin nation, along the lines of an economic take two aspirin and it will be better in the morning, than a budget for an aspiration nation. The problem is that George Osborne’s Budget brings scant benefit to the Welsh economy and provides clear indication that Con Dem Treasury policies are failing Wales.

The Chancellor’s not unsurprisingly failed to transfer key job-creating powers from Westminster to Wales something that means his Budget will fail to boost demand in the Welsh economy and prevent vital investment in major infrastructure projects.There was a basic failure to accept that Plan A, such as it was, has failed.

It’s time to try something different (Plan B perhaps) and to adopt a range of progressive policies including reversing the tax cut for those earning over £3,000 a week which is still due to be implemented in April 2013. Once again a Westminster Government has failed to cut its cloth to match reality as the pursuit of World Power Status continues with the Trident renewal which is set to cost £100 billion pounds over the lifetime of a new system carries on.

The Chancellor also failed to make progress on introducing a Financial Transaction (the Robin Hood) Tax that would raise £20 billion a year and help curb the speculative behaviour in the financial sector which caused the crash in the first place and the decision to scrap the stamp duty on shares trading is a regressive move as it’s the only thing in the UK currently resembling this tax.

There are some positives such as the announcement on childcare support which is a positive move but even this does not help people on tax credits or universal credit as those on the lowest incomes will still face the greatest barriers to finding work. The scrapping of the planned rise in fuel costs was also a positive, but the opportunity to sort out a longer-term solution with a fuel duty stabiliser to prevent soaring prices at the pump, was missed.

The announcement of the £10,000 tax threshold is also welcome as it will help people on lowers incomes, something that Plaid has long supported. Despite the few positives, ordinary families in Wales are still set to pay the price for the failings of the banks and the self-defeating policies of the Treasury.

Most importantly for Wales, what the Chancellor should have announced is the implementation of the recommendations made by the Silk Commission. This would have ensured that we in Wales have control over the levers that would allow investment in major infrastructure projects, creating jobs and boost demand in the economy.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


The Conservatives in Wales have finally joined calls for the Welsh government to be handed control over the Severn bridges, only to find that a Conservative minister in the Con Dem Coalition government is opposing any such idea. The Conservatives in the Senedd have proposed cutting the bridge tolls and using the proceeds to spend on infrastructure. So we have elected representatives from the same party in opposition to each other over an issue of importance to the Welsh people and our economy. Nothing new here, Labour in Wales was often at loggerheads with Labour in Westminster, putting party (and self) interest before the interests of Wales.

The Second Severn Bridge
Now when it comes to transferring the Severn Bridges (and their income) to Wales, this is also not a new idea. Back in October 2010 Professor Peter Midmore produced an independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee back in December 2010 recommended that the bridge tolls be cut once the concession ends.

At the moment both of the Severn Bridges are run by a private company (Severn Crossings PLC) and the Welsh government (in a report published in November 2012) wants to take control of the Severn Bridges when they return to public ownership. The bridge concession when it ends in 2018 will have brought in some £996 million pounds (based on 1989 prices). At the moment it costs £6.20 to take a car over the M4 and M48 bridges from England to Wales, with driving into England being free. Vans and minibuses cost £12.40 and for Lorries and coaches £18.60. Businesses and commuters currently fork out around £80 million pounds a year to cross the bridges.

Yet, Westminster, no doubt with an eye on useful income stream has said that the Severn Bridges when the concession finally comes to an end won’t be transferred to Wales and also that the tolls may not get cut either. Interestingly enough, the Humber Bridge continues to receive a subsidy, but, no such luck for the Severn Bridges and their hard pressed commuters. Perhaps the party formerly known as New Labour and the current Con Dem Government in Westminster hoped that here in Wales – out of sight and out of mind (at least from a Westminster perspective) - we would not notice the ongoing subsidy.

Plaid has long called for control, or shared control, over the bridge to be devolved to the Welsh government and for negotiations to start immediately to ensure that the transfer is in place by 2018. The Party, committed to reducing the tolls on the Severn Bridges to under £2 per car, recognises that the high cost of the tolls impacts on commuters and businesses (especially freight and logistics) and on people visiting Wales. The bridges are of such importance that it is only fair that control, or at least shared control, over them is in the hands of the Welsh people.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Historically the decisions made by Labour in Newport (historically in the old Stow Hill Labour Club, but, more latterly in Ringland Labour Club) on Monday night before the full council meeting tend to be binding. If so then this could be bad news for the Newport residents who care about public services. The Labour in Newport run Newport City Council look set to close Stow Hill Library. 

According to the South Wales Argus, Debbie Wilcox, the Labour Cabinet member for Leisure and Culture has pushed through plans to move the service to the Central Library (in John Frost Square). As part of the plans to streamline Library services across the city both St Julians and Pillgwenlly libraries will survive unstaffed within community learning centres. Labour in Newport’s plans will reduce the opening hours of six Libraries, extended hours in others with the other eleven hours are also due to reorganised. 

The South Wales Argus has been on the case since January when it revealed Labour in Newport’s proposed budget cuts to Library services with the threatened closure of Stow Hill and Maindee Libraries and the ongoing threat to Underwood Leisure Centre. A public meeting to campaign to campaign to keep Stow Hill Library open is to be held at the Civic Centre on Wednesday. 

Please contact the Leader of Newport City Council, Councillor Bob Bright at: or by phone, Newport 656 656, or by post, c/o The Civic Centre, Newport and communicate to him your concerns.

Monday, 18 March 2013


Plaid Cymru MP, Elfyn Llwyd, discusses the future of Welsh devolution on the Westminster Hour (10.03.2013)

Sunday, 17 March 2013


As NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan winds down, the Westminster Government is aiming to fund a £10 million pound programme to help Afghanistan exploit its huge natural resources. This may sound too many people like a lot of money but considering that estimates of what lies underground in Afghanistan range from some $1 – 3 trillion dollars (US) worth of gold, gems, iron ore, and oil and gas. Now this has little to do with largess, no doubt hoping for a percentage, David Cameron’s three-year funding programme, to support the Afghan Ministry of Mines was launched at an event at Downing Street (March 6th).

UK Mining Aid in Afghanistan: Throwing Good Money After Bad?
The announcement came as Mr Cameron hosted dozens of UK investors and mining contractors at Downing Street.  He said the UK had already played "a huge and honourable role" in stabilising Afghanistan, but that the country needed "prosperity, growth, jobs, investment and wealth". British mining companies welcomed the announcement. Cameron’s decision could be described as courageous, especially with the claims that the award of mining contracts in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban were directly affected by corruption.

Transparency International in 2012 Corruption Index (CPI) currently ranks Afghanistan as one of the (joint) most corrupt country with North Korea and Somalia. President Hamid Karzai in the United State for the NATO Summit in Chicago (in 2012) was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about this rampant corruption issue in Afghanistan. As usual, President Karzai’s answer was “it is the contractual mechanism that the US applies in Afghanistan” that encourages bribery, fraud, and corruption.

The Afghan President has always blamed the west for the loss of billions of aid dollars and the rise of corruption in Afghanistan. The reality is less simple as on a daily basis, ordinary Afghans are less concerned about the kinds of bribery that is (and does) occur when the US and Western  development agencies hand out big development contracts. Ordinary Afghans are more infuriated by the kinds of bribes that they often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to via “harassment bribes.”

Basically harassment bribes are like when a retired Afghan has to pay some cash to the pension officer to receive his retirement check. Or, when a young man or woman freshly graduated from college has to get his or her paperwork done in order to become a teacher. To accomplish this the prospective teacher will be asked to pay a hefty bribe. Or your Tazkira or national ID card is held up until you pay some cash to the officer in charge. These are all simple illustration of harassment bribes.

Harassment bribery is widespread in Afghanistan, and it plays a large role in breeding inefficiency and has a profoundly destructive effect on civil society. While President Karzai consistently wags the finger at the West for widespread corruption in Afghanistan, yet his administration has failed to take responsibility for banishing bribery on the lower level. The West has for a quiet life has looked the other way as local low level corruption tends to be written off as a fact of life something that indirectly may feed support for the Taliban.

Now it may be a question of scale, the World Bank has regularly appealed for future Afghan mining concessions to be better regulated and more transparent, and the UK’s new financial support is aimed at improving that process. Cameron’s theory is that by improving Afghan technical competence, and ensuring a transparent process, should help to secure that along with the concerns that vast investments made by companies from China and India have reduced  opportunities for others i.e. The UK.

When it comes to mining contracts it certainly appears to be a matter of scale. The award of a 30-year contract to a Chinese consortium to exploit the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar province is one of the deals that has come in for particular criticism. The exact details of 2007 deal with China Metallurgical Group Corporation have never been made public, something that continues to fuel rumours of bribery and kick-backs along with serious concerns about the potentially massive environmental and cultural impact of the mining project on local communities and local people.

Some years ago, the Taliban blew up Afghanistan's ancient Buddha's of Bamiyan, provoking a degree of international outrage amongst the concerned and amongst the chattering classes. At the time the Taliban's brutal treatment of women and religious minorities oddly enough provoked less public outrage - no doubt because pipeline route deals (to get the oil out of Central Asia) were in the offing. Now, the country's rich archaeological heritage is facing a new and different threat - that of mineral exploitation and development of resources.

The Peoples Republic of China (currently busy sourcing minerals and foodstuffs from around the world to feed its economy and its people) has its sights on another ancient Buddhist site in pursuit of copper. Mes Aynak ironically is an ex al-Qaeda training camp and home to a 1,400 years old Buddhist monastery. This site is relatively intact with walls, corridors, stupas brightly painted red Buddha's. The monks originally settled here because there was copper in the ground; part of a Buddhist kingdom and a Silk Road way-station, other things carried Buddhism from India to Tibet, and into China.

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

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

Overwhelmed by both large and small scale corruption what can an endemically corrupt Afghan government do to discourage bribe givers and takers (at all levels of government) even if it wanted to? Endemic corruption aside the security situation is the key, with NATO leaving and the Taliban waiting in the wings things don’t look good.

Yet if things stabilise then there may be new rush to exploit Afghan mining opportunities, but, at what cost to the Afghans themselves, who have seen what has happened in other post-conflict countries. Elsewhere in the world, in Africa and elsewhere, large deposits of mineral resources have often proved to be a curse, often enriching the few (and the mining companies) rather than benefiting local people who have often lost out.

Friday, 15 March 2013


When it comes to Housing Policy (and Planning Policy) in Wales its bad news for local residents, whether they are in those residents of Newport or Torfaen (who have been fighting the plan) or the concerned residents of Carmarthen who are worried about the impact of over large housing developments or the concerned residents of Holyhead who are opposed to new marina development. In Wales we have over the years been ill-served by the planning system, by nominally Local Development Plans and by our local authorities and by our own Government in Cardiff. Well on Saturday....

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Save Stow Hill Library
To All Lovers of Libraries Everywhere and especially Stow Hill Library, Newport. I am the author of The Pubs of Newport, The Newport Kaleidoscope and Newport Rugby Greats as well as a number of other books including The Ghosts of Gwent, The Folklore of Gwent, The Music of Fair Tongues, Unknown Gwent, The Life of Johnny Basham and The Dragon Entertains.

I am appalled at Newport City Council's decision to close down Stow Hill and regard this as, at worst, an act of cultural vandalism or, at best, misguided. Librararies are food for the soul and drink for the mind and Stow Hill is no exception. It is used by senior citizens, (one lady confided in me that she has been visiting Stow Hill for 75 years), school children, ethnic minorities, mothers with toddlers and all sections of the local community and further afield. To close it would be not just a blow to to the local area which has suffered enough in recent years with the loss of its banks, bakery, butcher's, greengrocer's and post office but to the whole of the city.

I note also that Maindee Library has been reprieved which is very pleasing, but why just Maindee, why not keep both Stow Hill and Maindee open? I urge all lovers of books to support me and other like minded people in our efforts to keep Stow Hill Library open. 

Please contact the Leader of Newport City Council, Councillor Bob Bright at:  , or by phone, Newport 656 656, or by post, c/o The Civic Centre, Newport and communicate to him your concerns.

Thank you in advance for all your help and support. Save our Library! 

Alan Roderick

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


One way the Government in Cardiff could seriously reduce traffic on the M4 and on local roads in and around on Newport and across South Monmouthshire would be by supporting calls for new railway stations at Llanwern (it’s worth remembering that Newport Unlimited proposed a 1,000 space ‘park and ride’ facility for the proposed new station), Magor and Caerleon. These new stations  along with extra parking at Chepstow and extra parking (not to mention a road link to M48) at Severn Tunnel Junction would give hard pressed commuters something like a real choice when it comes to getting to and from work.  Ongoing and successful campaigns at Severn Tunnel and Chepstow have shown that people value their rail services and that the simple provision of better facilities and more stopping services can make a real difference.  New stations at Caerleon, Llanwern and at Magor would prove to be a less costly option and less environmentally damaging and more sustainable option and could help to cut congestion on already overused local roads.

Monday, 11 March 2013


Ahead of the Second Reading of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, Plaid Cymru has renewed the call for full legal separation of retail and investment functions of banks, to truly ensure that banks can never again game the system and gamble with ordinary depositors' money.

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP said:

"The Government's plan to ‘electrify’ the ring-fencing of the big banks’ commercial and investment functions, despite being a step in the right direction, does not go far enough.   

“A full legal separation of these functions is only way to ensure that banks behave and do not have to be bailed out again. Even though everyone is now focused on the recovery, the mess of the past has still not been sorted out and is proving to be a major economic drag.

"We know that bankers will try and game the system, history has proved this. The only way to truly protect against the banks being bailed out again – at massive cost to the taxpayer – is for full legal separation of retail and investment functions.  This is the only way to end moral hazard and to stop casino bankers using public money as a safety net.

"Despite the seemingly tough talk of ‘electrifying’ the ring-fencing of the retail and investment functions of banks – the measure still fails to break up the banks. All that the Government would do is reserve the right to break up the banks. Instead, George Osborne should be actually breaking them up.

"Breaking up the banks is what Plaid Cymru has argued for since the banking crisis and financial crisis began in 2008.

"Labour, meanwhile, presided over the financial crash of 2008 having been slavish adherents to light touch regulation and in awe of bankers and the City of London. Ed Balls has said that 'the jury is still out' and has only talked of demanding a 'reserve power' for separation of the banks, mirroring Osborne’s position. [1

“Clearly Labour are not committed to separating the banks. Both Tories and Labour are addicted to high finance.

"After the scandals of PPI mis-selling, LIBOR, countless bankers’ bonuses furores, the financial crash of 2008, the massive government bail-outs, and the economic crisis that we are still living through today – active full legal separation of banks’ retail and investment functions is what is required. My fear is that the financial sector will see Osborne's reserved right to break up the banks as an empty threat.

"Those that say that banks would relocate to other countries if full legal separation were to happen are wrong. Where else would bail them out? Banks must be made to serve the real economy instead of being too big to fail. The producing economies of the British State, such as the Welsh economy, are bled dry by the sectoral dominance of the banking sector, and the regional dominance of London and the South East of England.

"Rather than being the goose that lays the golden egg, the banks, for far too long, have held a golden gun to governments and ordinary working people.  This Bill is the one opportunity policy makers will have to protect the real economy from the excesses of banks in the future.  Otherwise it's only a matter of time before we will be asked to bail the bankers out again."

Thursday, 7 March 2013


No it's not the Severn Bridge!
Towards the end of February, a few Westminster MP’s gathered to back a private members bill which aimed to allow hospital patients free travel (to and from treatment) across a toll bridge across a wide river estuary (it was the Humber Bridge, not the Severn bridge(s)). Patients in northern Lincolnshire have no choice other than to use the Humber Bridge to access medical treatment at hospitals in Hull and East Yorkshire. The Bridge tolls were cut by half in April 2012 by a Westminster Government subsidy, falling from £3 each way for cars to £1.50 per crossing (interesting that a Conservative dominated coalition government can do this for a toll bridge in England but is quite unprepared to even consider attempting to reduce tools on the Severn bridges. Despite the reduction in tolls, local campaigners say cancer sufferers who need regular chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions are continually being hit by the £3 return toll charge. The proposed private members bill would give the Humber Bridge Board greater financial freedom and may potentially pave the way for toll-free crossings for hospital patients. A bill was introduced to parliament in January, its passage was however delayed after the Tory MP and former Transport Minister Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Dorset) raised an objection in the House of Commons. The Humber Bridge which was opened to traffic in 1981, has often been at the centre of political controversy over the rising cost of tolls, something that has been blamed on the legacy of spiralling debt from its construction. The Humber Bridge Bill has reached the second reading stage in the House of Commons and will to pass through the various stages of parliament over the next six months. So what exactly are those MP's from the South East doing with their time?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


George Osborne and the Con Dems are prettymuch on their own when it comes to standing up for the bankers and their bonuses. Swiss voters have overwhelmingly voted in a referendum to impose some of the world's toughest controls on executive pay. Almost 68% of the Swiss voters backed plans to give shareholders a veto on compensation and ban big payouts for new and departing managers.

More popular than the Bankers...
While understandably some Business groups argued the proposals would damage Swiss competitiveness ordinary Swiss voters were more concerned with the growing economic divide in the country. The Swiss vote came a few days after the European Union agreed new measures to cap bankers bonuses. Referendum results showed that all 26 Swiss cantons backed the proposals, with 1.6 million voters voting "Yes" with 762,000 voting “NO”.

Multibillion dollar losses by Swiss banking giant UBS (which were covered by the Swiss government), and thousands of redundancies at pharmaceutical company Novartis, have caused a wave of anger in Switzerland as high salaries and bonuses for managers had remained unchanged. The new measures  give Switzerland some of the world's strictest corporate rules, with Shareholders having a veto on salaries, golden handshakes will be forbidden, and managers of companies who flout the rules may  face prison (now there’s a nice idea!).

The so called "fat cat initiative" will be written into the Swiss constitution and apply to all Swiss companies listed on Switzerland's stock exchange. Last week the European Union agreed a deal which means that bankers bonuses will be capped at a year's salary, but can rise to two year's pay but only if shareholders approve. The Con Dem Government has argued the EU bonus rules will drive away talent and restrict growth in the financial sector.

Remember this...

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

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, 17 December 2010

and also this...

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

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17 December 2010

The former New Labour government made much of its light (more like non-existent) financial regulatory touch, well at least until the wheels came spectacularly off the wagon. The Con Dem's have effectively refused to take any action over banking regulation until after the next Westminster general election. Interestingly enough before the government limos arrived (and they were in government) before the last Westminster election Vince Cable (currently the Business Secretary) and George Osborne (currently Chancellor) were at it hammer and tongs as to who was going to be toughest when it came to regulating and controlling the worst excesses of the banks.

Personally I think that The Con Dem UK Government (and their formerly New Labour predecessors) have missed an opportunity to break up and 'privatise' the larger 'publicly owned' financial institutions, they should have sold the shares on the open market with specific quotas on how many shares any one institution can own. From where many people are sat these bloated overgrown banking organisations appear to be a serious block on the ‘free market’ and too busy lining their own pockets. George Osborne and the Tories appear to have reluctantly gone along with the much publicly stated need to regulate the more unsavoury aspects of the banking sector, but, whether they will actually and eventually do anything is open to question.

Perhaps they ought to come clean and simply declare an interest as regulating the banks in the City may impinge on the acquisition of future lucrative directorships in City banks unless they have them already that is? One question that may also remain unanswered is whether or not they will do anything about tax evasion, tax avoidance and the regulation tax havens? It's odd really because the Con Dem's have displayed such zeal in their efforts to chase people on benefits.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Inertia can be defined as the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion (see Labour in Wales Government).

How to redefine inertia?
Even the most passive observer of the hitherto inert Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff should not be surprised to see that road has been chosen over rail in relation to transport priorities. This largely passive if not mostly harmless government has shelved several rail schemes that could make a real difference to people’s lives and deliver value for money in favour of questionable expensive road schemes that won’t deliver much to our communities let alone value for money. 

Road over Rail?
Back in January (2013) the Welsh Government released figures that show that it intends to spend around £805 million pounds on finishing off the Heads of the Valleys Road (something that has been on the drawing board by my reckoning since 1958) by 2020. The Western Mail (28th February 2013) revealed that the road scheme will provide scant benefits for our economy and that seven far more beneficial rail schemes may have been quietly sidelined: 

·      Aberystwyth (Bow Street): new station outside the town with car parking (estimated cost between £1.5 and £2 million (2011)).This would provide a welcome boost to commutes into and out of Aberystwyth and reduce road congestion.
·     Abertillery: new station and 1.5 miles of new track to link Abertillery to Ebbw Vale line at Llanhilleth (estimated cost £16.7 million (2012)). This would provide a key rail link for Abertillery to Cardiff (and eventually to Newport).
·    Bridgend: new station at Brackla, upgraded track and signals at Tondu (estimated cost £12 million (2005)). This means that the train service from Maesteg to Cardiff could run every 30 minutes.
·     Ebbw Vale: extra tracks and new Ebbw Vale town station (estimated cost £32 million (2012)). This means that train services could run from much closer to the town centre and could lead to further development work at Ebbw Vale Parkway, with trains running every hour from Ebbw Vale to Newport (subject to further work outside Newport) in addition to the existing service between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.
·      Llantrisant: new railway line (on old track) and new stations at St Fagans, Talbot Green, Llantrisant, Gwaun Meisgyn and Beddau (estimated cost £37 million pounds (2011)). This could provide a rail service into Cardiff. 
·        Nelson: new stations at Nelson, Trelewis and Bedlinog (estimated cost £7.9 million (2011)). This could boost rail services into Caerphilly and Cardiff.
·      Newport and South Monmouthshire: new station at Llanwern, extra parking at Chepstow and extra parking (and road link to M48) at Severn Tunnel Junction (estimated cost £43 million (2011)).  This could help provide trains from Chepstow into Cardiff every 30 minutes and cut congestion on the roads.

More locally, back in 2005, the Welsh Government promised to deliver phase 2 of the Ebbw Vale rail project, with direct trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport and an extension of the line towards Ebbw Vale and Abertillery by 2009.  Some four years down the line, so to speak we are still waiting and it looks like we may wait a long time before anything gets done.

The end of the line for the moment?
Our own government, not the Con Dems in Westminster, has chosen to reduce investment its capital investment in railways from £37 million (2013) to £12 million (2014-15) this £16 million pound saving would not even pay 10% of the provisional costs of the Heads of the Valleys road scheme.  Now it would be easy to suggest that Labour in Wales’s decision is literally be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul as the budget won’t stretch to paying for everything. Limited budgets aside for the moment, this is still a bad decision, one that does little to build (or rebuild) our fragmented public transport system.

The underlying problem is that rail investment is not yet devolved and the real decisions about significant infrastructure investment in Wales are still being made in Westminster and Whitehall. So obviously when looking at transport infrastructure spending and development with a London centric perspective tends to ensure that smaller projects that could have a significant impact here in Wales tend to drop down the long list of priorities.

This lack of budgetary authority is something that directly interferes with our ability to choose the most cost effective transport option. Full budgetary authority for transport in Wales needs to be devolved to the Welsh Government because the combination of spilt budgetary authority (between Cardiff and London) and the ineffective arms length relationship between the Welsh Government and Network Rail is not addressing our countries transport needs.

Now the lack of budgetary authority is only part of the problem. It is worth remembering that the Transport (Wales) Act (which was effective from February 2006) gave the National Assembly the power to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system. Now this may not sit well with what appears to be an old style Welsh Office inspired civil service that may still be thinking in London centric terms having failed to grasp the concept of devolution. That aside, the real problem is the almost total lack of any vision on the part of the Labour in Wales government, which like various other Labour groups across our country is more concerned with being there than doing anything.   

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has said her party can deliver the brighter future that the people of Wales are crying out for.  Speaking at the Plaid Cymru Spring Conference in Beaumaris, Ynys Mon, Ms Wood told the audience that during her first year as party leader she had learnt that people “the length and breadth of Wales have an unquenchable hope, a huge appetite for a different course.

She also said she had learnt that many people share an acceptance that “we cannot continue as we are.”  Plaid Cymru, Ms Wood said, is the only party that Wales can rightly call its own and the only party that can bring about the “new direction, new start and new leadership” so desperately needed. In her second speech to spring conference as leader, Ms Wood outlined some of the ideas her party would implement if it held the reins of power at Welsh Government.

“I want a connected country,” said Ms Wood.  “That means improving our internal road network, continuing the work begun by Ieuan, making use of rail electrification to build a Valleys Metro and bring Cardiff to Bangor rail times to within three hours.  And it means creative investment in our ports and airports to connect Wales to the world.

I want a country where people have opportunities to do well – that means improving the skills of our people to build a new sustainable, manufacturing economy and more engineering skills in particular, delivered in communities through a green skills construction college.

“It means training people in Wales and incentivising them to stay in Wales, innovating in our public sector with training to develop the best quality public services.

“It means supporting more small businesses to enable them to take on new workers or trainees and it means improving the education of all of our children by working towards a system whereby all children are given the gift of bilingualism from three.”

Ms Wood said Plaid Cymru would provide leadership and excellence in education in contrast to the finger-pointing and poor results that have characterised Labour’s unbroken rule over the Welsh education since devolution.

This May, the Labour party will have been in power in Wales for sixteen years,” said Ms Wood. 

“There will be teenagers doing their GCSEs this summer who have lived their whole lives under a Labour Education minister. 

These young people have watched as Wales; in the past a watchword for educational excellence, has slipped further and further behind – not just England, but 36 other countries in reading and 38 more in maths.

When a child fails their education, the consequences stay with them for life.  Ask anyone who didn’t pass the 11 plus.  But when our education system fails our children, who takes responsibility? 

To date, no one.  Not one education minister has ever been sacked for poor results – in this Government failure is rewarded with promotion.

She also lamented the number of reviews the Welsh Government has ordered since forming a minority Government less than two years ago.

She said: “There have been almost as many reviews announced under this fourth Assembly as in the whole history of devolution.  Why?  Because a Government that has been in power for so long has run out of excuses for failure.

They want to create the semblance of activity.  The few targets that they have set in their sixteen years in Government they have missed.  90% of UK GVA by 2010? Missed. 25% of people Welsh-speaking by 2010? Missed. 

Welsh Ambulances arriving within eight minutes of an incident in 65% of cases. Missed month after month after month.

Our Assembly was meant to fill the accountability gap.  No longer would those taking the decisions be free to ignore the consequences of getting those decisions wrong. 

We now have our own democracy, yet we are caught in a one party state-of-denial where Labour politicians from Wales can vote with the UKIP-type Tories against the best interests of Wales, yet in Cardiff Bay Labour politicians bemoan a cut in the EU budget. 

They cannot be allowed to be immune from criticism and from never taking responsibility for the multiple crises – the crisis in our health service, the crisis in our schools, the crisis in our economy – that Labour has left for us. 

They appear to be clueless as to the cause of these problems, and clueless as to the solutions.  Which is why we have had 59 task and finish groups established since May 2011.  Well I know the source of the problem, and I have a simple solution. 

“It’s time to task and finish off this Government!”

Ms Wood finished her speech by saying it was time to provide the vision and the positive future that people are calling out for.

Our history will be what we make it,” she said.  “And we can start today by imagining a different future. 

What have I learned this last year as leader?

I’ve learned that people the length and breadth of Wales have an unquenchable hope, a huge appetite for a different course – an acceptance that we cannot continue as we are.  Our country contains an enormous well-spring of positive, creative, almost limitless social energy. 

People want to make a difference to their world and their Wales.  That’s why you’re here, that’s why I’m here, that’s why are here together.  And together this small nation can and will do great things. 

People are calling out for a vision.  Yes, there is scepticism; that is hardly surprising.  The old models of our economy, our politics, our environment are broken. 

The old institutions are rotten to the core.  People are looking for new direction, a new start and new leadership.  And we need to make sure they find it here, at home, in the only party that this country of ours can rightly call its own.  The Party of Wales.”

Friday, 1 March 2013


At the end of the day it comes down to a question of priorities, two different issues bankers bonuses and the bedroom tax may well clearly define this Conservative dominated coalition government, and show that its priorities are at odds with those of most ordinary voters. David Cameron and Boris Johnson defence of pretty indefensible bankers bonuses and their strident criticism of European Union attempts to curb them is all too typical of a Westminster based political party that still reveres the City.

DC on a sticky wicket after the Eastleigh By-election?
This is not I suspect simply a Conservative position and that  this defence of bankers bonuses would also probably be made by the Labour Party if it was in power.  The EU has brought in a reasonable cap on bankers bonuses, seeking to limit them to no more than a year's basic pay, with an option for shareholders to agree to double it. I suspect that many voters along with many economists blame excessive bonuses in the financial sector for encouraging the risky irresponsible behaviour that brought on the 2008 financial crisis.

Top bankers and financial traders earned bonuses multiple times their base salaries, generating public anger over bonuses especially following the huge publically funded bail-outs of banks. Dave and Boris’s defence of the bankers and the Labour Party’s relative silence on the issue may, in my option have more to do with future job prospects for former Westminster politicians than it does with any heartfelt ideological love of the free market.

The other issue that will help define this Con Dem Coalition Government is its desire to bring in the "bedroom tax” (or housing under-occupancy penalty) which will hit on some of the society’s  most vulnerable people - including pensioners, people will disabilities, separated families and families of service personnel. The Con Dems are seeking to penalise those who are in receipt of housing benefit while having one or more spare bedrooms in their houses. Even the Department for Work and Pensions' figures show that 63% of the 660,000 claimants affected by the bedroom tax or their partners are disabled.

Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens (and even the Labour Party in Westminster) have put pressure on the Con Dem Government to think again. The bed room tax is an ideologically driven exercise to save money at the expense of some of vulnerable people – potentially it could force around 400,000 disabled people and their partners out of their homes and is wrong both in principle and in practice.

This Conservative dominated coalition has defined itself by failing to tackle tax evasion to recover lost tax, by failing to deal with excessive profiteering by the big six energy companies and failing to curb the bankers excesses. Instead this Con Dem government is going after those who can least afford to be taxed and is actually going out to bat for the City and standing up for bankers bonuses.