Friday, 31 May 2013


It was the Wrecsam Plaid blog entry the other day on Labour in Wales’s belated support for Welsh farmers that got me thinking. Perhaps the reason for this failure to step in to support our farmers (after a particularly bad winter) may be down to a combination of poor advice from civil servants to ministers, or a marked indifference towards agriculture. The later is something that has been manifest in recent decades at various levels of government in the UK. These may all be reasons for the blatant neglect and belated support but I think that the real reason is because Labour in Wales (and its various elected representatives) have a real problem with other parts of Wales that fall outside what they perceive to be their home turf.

The real reason may well be down to a quiet disbelief in the very concept of Cymru / Wales, let alone devolution. Over the years (reluctantly at times) Labour in Wales (and some of its elected representatives) have talked the talk and walked (more stumbled) the walk with the rhetoric of devolution. They have talked up their own frenzied inertia with devolution into what they describe as ‘standing up for Wales’. It sounds good, but, actually delivers little for our country and our people, something that accurately matches Labour in Westminster (and Wales) record of delivering for Wales.

The Labour Party (formerly known New Labour) in Westminster (and Cymru / Wales) are quietly hoping that people will forget the terrible mess they created when they were in power at Westminster and the cuts they would have implemented had they not been battered by the electorate. New (and Old) Labour were pretty good on sound-bites but short on delivery, Harold Wilson, once talked about "The white heat of the technological revolution" (October 1st 1963). Yet once the dust had settled after six years of Labour Government very little changed and very little was delivered as vested interests in the Labour Movement thwarted any real economic reform.

As for delivering for Cymru / Wales, it took the best part of 11 of the 13 years in office at Westminster before Labour in Wales woke up to the concept of electrifying the Great Western from Swansea to London, and then reluctantly. It was only after Plaid (and Ieuan Wyn Jones) put them in a situation where they had no other option to commit as originally they planned to electrify the Great Western from Bristol to London - perhaps they hoped that no one in Wales would not notice (as per the subsidy for the Humber bridge). 

So  three years down the line from losing office, after 13 years in power the Labour Party in Westminster (at least) is now wallowing in its comfort zone, safely out of office at Westminster, safely free from responsibility, they are enjoying what they love to do best – attacking the Tories. Faced by any election (in Cymru / Wales) they will talk up the Tory threat (as well practised by Peter Hain) – this is Labour in Wales's bottom line and works along the line of if you tell a simple big enough lie often enough then people will eventually believe it. 

At one very basic level, from their point of view why not? There is certainly plenty to attack the Tories (and their Liberal Democrat little helpers) for, especially when it comes to our public services and our economy. But do Labour (New or Old or whatever they choose to call themselves) actually have any real credibility when it comes to attacking the Tories on these issues?

There is a long history of the Labour sound-bite, Harold Wilson said in his 1961 Labour Party Conference speech "The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing". It seems that the answer is that it is nothing. More recently Tony Blair (a man who could perhaps have been said to come within 45 minutes of finding his principles) said "It is not an arrogant government that chooses priorities, it's an irresponsible government that fails to choose". Yet they consistently failed to choose to act to make Wales better and consistently put Party interest before principle and the interests of our people. 

If I was being kind, then certainly the party formerly known as New Labour's recent history is marked by a series of opportunities wasted by Labour in government. There is a pretty long list of things (large and small) that they could have done, that they were supposed to fight for, but chose not to. They have displayed a bigger and more public commitment to ‘Fair funding for Wales’ since being out of office (at Westminster) than they ever displayed when they were last in office (at Westminster). 

As far as we in Wales are concerned, they are those 'friends' who are never around when you actually need them. Labour was the friend that the people of Wales turned to for the best part of one hundred years when faced with economic and political adversity. Through strikes, recession, the Thatcher and Major years the people sought comfort from their natural political home and got scant reward for it during the 13 years of Labour Government. The problem has been that Labour since the 1920’s (with the exception of the 1940’s) has been more concerned with keeping its collective nose in the trough than anything else.

New Labour did nothing to curb the irresponsibility of the bankers and little to support our manufacturing industry and small to medium sized businesses, that are (and should be) the lifeblood of much of the Welsh economy. When presented with the opportunity (and Westminster majority) to implement real and lasting improvements to the lives of its loyal supporters, New Labour offered warm words, but was never there when we really needed them. When they actually had the power to deliver for the Welsh people, we should remember that they made the decision not to. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


An opportunity for Cornwall?
With tin prices close to around $20,000 (£13,300 pound) a tonne there is a bit of a Tin mining frenzy kicking off in Cornwall where Marine Minerals Ltd (MML) are currently searching the seabed off for the tin tailings washed down from the old mines. It has been estimated that perhaps around 40% of the tin mined that was once mined on land is now sitting on the seabed. The plan is to sift the seabed at least 200m from the low water mark off the coast at St Ives Bay, Porthtowan and Perran. Elsewhere Treliver Minerals (UK exploration company) is test drilling for tin at Treliver Farm, near St Columb Major. At Callington an Australian mining firm New Age Exploration plans to re-open the old Redmoor mine.

The off shore plans are opposed by environmental groups and surfers who are concerned that it will destroy the natural habitat and the beach breaks. MML rejects the arguments and has launched a £500,000 environmental assessment before making an extraction licence application to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). MML say that  the extraction process will use perhaps three tracked vehicles on the seabed sucking up the sand for sifting on a ship. The Cornwall-based firm is proposing to sift 2m tonnes of sand from the seabed every year for 10 years, with about 95% of that material going straight back onto the seabed. The rest will be brought ashore to produce about 1,000 tonnes of tin a year, with the waste possibly going into old clay pits in the St Austell area.

The MMO's has expressed its concerns in relation to possible impact of mining operations on marine life (including oysters and sea snails around Perran which is a proposed Marine Conservation Zone), St Ives Bay, which is an "important" migratory route and feeding area for sea trout, Atlantic Salmon and shell-fish production in St Ives Bay. They also have concerns about the stirring up of heavy metals on the seabed and an increase in algal blooms, the impact on tourism (due to noise close to the shore) and the £64 million pound local surfing industry.

The  question of jobs will loom large, as Cornwall has suffered years of economic neglect at the hands of Westminster. If the UK economic gets cold, then Wales gets flu and Cornwall pneumonia. I am sure that the Duchy of Cornwall (which is justifiably under fire for its activities) will endeavour to get more than its fair share along with the Mining companies, but, what about the people of Cornwall? Rather than business as usual where distant Westminster has the final say and then helps itself to the lion’s share of potential revenues perhaps the decision should be made by the Cornish and any mining license and extraction fees should sit in a ring fenced Cornish Sovereign Wealth Fund – just a thought?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Biofuels were suppose to save us and the planet from a combination of global warming and an over reliance on fossil fuels. The problem is that many biofuels are reliant on monoculture cropping and industrial agricultural systems, massive fertilizer inputs, large quantities of water and huge amounts of oil. One result of this is that biofuels may end up accelerating global warming by leading to the destruction of forests and other natural ecosystems when land is cleared for the cultivation of biofuel crops.

Another result is that biofuels end up in the developing world competing with food for land, increasing food prices and hunger. The biofuels industry is also supported by a number of different policies in both the USA, Brazil and the EU including various tax subsidies, trade barriers, government grants and loans. We need to bring to an end policies that directly support the production of environmentally harmful biofuels, and make room for sustainable energy alternatives and more environmentally friendly and socially responsible biofuels.

A recent report by Chatham House says the growing reliance on sustainable liquid fuels will also increase food prices . Basically biodiesel made from vegetable oil is worse for the climate than fossil fuels. The report noted that the UK’s use of biofuels is “irrational” and will cost UK motorists around £460 million over the next 12 months. The EU plan (underwritten by law) is for biofuels to make up 5% of the UK's transport fuel as of 15th April. The UK (since 2008) has required fuel suppliers to add a growing proportion of sustainable materials into the petrol and diesel they supply.

Many of these biofuels are distilled from ethanol which is sourced  from corn and biodiesel made from rapeseed, used cooking oil and tallow. Chatham House research suggests that reaching the 5% level will result in UK motorists having to pay around an extra £460 million pounds a year because of the higher cost of fuel at the pump and from filling up more often as biofuels have a lower energy content. The report states that if the UK is to meet its obligations to EU energy targets the cost to motorists is likely to rise to £1.3 billion pounds per annum by 2020.

The problem with the EU biofuel mandates are that they have huge distorting effects in the marketplace. As a result of used cooking oil being regarded as one of the most sustainable types of biodiesel, the price paid for it has soured. By the end of 2012 used cooking oil was more expensive than refined palm oil. Another concern is that taking EU land out of production to grow rapeseed oil in particular will end up creating more climate problems than it solves.

The more fuel of this type that is put into cars the bigger the deficit created in the edible oils market. This had resulted in increased imports of palm oil from Indonesia, which is often produced on illegally deforested land. As the UK reaches its 5% of liquid fuels target, the government faces some tough decisions on how to move forward as it may end up facing a tripling of the costs for motorists by 2020.

The UK Westminster government may prefer to try and get do a deal with Brussels on the impacts of indirect costs which might restrict what exactly counts as biofuel. There are problems with this, especially when it comes to reaching an agreement with those EU countries which have powerful agricultural sectors who rake in the cash from the current biofuels arrangements.

Outside of Europe there are other consequences with the acquisition of land by multi nationals for development or to acquire resources at the expense of local people. This is bound to be a touchy subject especially when little medium to long term sustainable benefit is delivered to the indigenous inhabitants. What's happening now in Africa is subtly different, there is a race going on between multinational companies on one hand and the emerging economic giant of the Peoples Republic of China on the other hand to acquire land, not so much for the minerals (although that is a factor) but to acquire the ability to grow food.

An interesting report (produced by the Oakland Institute) has noted that Hedge funds are now getting involved in acquiring land in Africa to produce food and biofuels, which will all boost their profits.  The report notes that foreign firms and hedge funds) have been quietly purchasing large chunks of land in Africa, often without any proper contracts and that this activity has led to the displacement of millions of small farmers, who are losing out as multinational firms try to secure their hold of the global food markets. Food production is often sacrificed to make space for cash crops for export, including flowers and biofuels, which fetch a tidy profit.

Since 2009 foreign firms the report noted that have acquired land equivalent to the size of France (nearly 60 million hectares) from questionable but lucrative deals with a combination of gullible traditional leaders or corrupt government officials in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique. I have no doubt that the foreign firms make many promises of progress, development and jobs to local communities, but they don't necessarily come close to delivering on the promises.

Investors benefit with a wide range of incentives written into their contracts from unlimited water rights to tax waivers, but, are clearly not there to help feed starving Africans. Sounds familiar doesn't it - not that much of step from the old days of the WDA throwing wads of cash of foreign investors, who got all sorts of benefits (grants and incentives), promised much (I seem to recall the magic figure of 6,000 jobs kept cropping up in the 1980's, 1990s and early 2000's) yet in the end never quite delivered all that was promised.

Monday, 27 May 2013


It's not often that the National Grid, who happen to amongst other things keep tabs on the gas industry makes headlines. The news that some of the UK's largest energy suppliers held back gas in storage tanks as the 'free market' ran into a serious if not acute gas shortage will not surprise many of the less than dispassionate observers of the expensive farce that passes itself off as the alleged energy 'free market' in the UK. Thanks to the failure to develop a sensible storage capacity of gas and the failure to develop serious serious alternative sustainable energy supplies the UK came within six hours of running out of gas on March 22nd this year. 

National Grid, which leases out storage space in it's Isle of Grain Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, to Centrica (who own British Gas), BP and other large energy suppliers, noted that the terminal was 40% full on March 22nd. It also noted that the South Hook planet (here in Wales) was 52% full; at a time when a combination of pipelines problems and demand (due to the cold weather) led to a spike in gas prices (which reached 150 pence a therm). National Grid owns and operates the gas storage facility but leases out storage to a number of third party users (including Sonatrach (Algeria) and GDF (France). The implication is that these large energy suppliers were holding back stocks of gas during a time of crisis so that they could profit for the high price for gas. 

If nothing else this should make it abundantly clear that the ideologically driven and pretty much unregulated 'free market' for energy has failed abysmally. We need, like Scotland and other countries to develop clean, safe and secure renewable energy supplies. I have come to the stark conclusion that the 'Big 6 energy cartel members have proved entirely focused on driving up profits and have neglected the safety of supply. They should play no part in developing, administering and overseeing any sustainable energy supplies as they will only endeavour to  extract as much profit as they can from the process. 

Friday, 24 May 2013


Let’s not waste any time trying to find anything logical in this brutal murder in Woolwich – there is nothing logical to be found. This evil act  is utterly unjustifiable and a life has been lost. As Billy Bragg said on Thursday, “The barbarous murder of an innocent man on the streets of London yesterday is shocking. What he did for a living cannot be used to justify what happened to him”. Such unjustifiable violent acts periodically emanate from the more fanatical corners of some sections of our communities. As has been said elsewhere the Woolwich murder has no more to do with British government policy than the Boston Marathon had to do with Chechnya. Terrorists and want-to-be terrorists or jihadists thrive on coverage in the media; the perpetrators of the brutal murder on the streets of Woolwich don’t deserve the oxygen of publicity. Violent people will often try to justify their actions by claiming that they are "political" we don’t need to do it for them. They will only be encouraged to do so if politicians appear to agree with them over their misguided motivations. The police and security services are best placed to prevent it, not the politicians. Extremists and fanatics may be attracted to use violence; we can and should treat the perpetrators of such crimes as criminals. Hannah Arendt’s book ’The Banality of Evil’ about the trial of holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, detailed the relationship between idiocy and evil – this same relationship can be found in the history and justifications of past jihadist attacks which have nothing to do with religion. Whatever their claimed cause there can is no justification for their actions. The life of Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby has been lost in the most brutal of circumstances and a family left in mourning for their lost loved one. We would do well to remember that above everything else.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


So there we have it, Carwyn Jones has said that it is unfair for Welsh people to be charged to enter their own country and that the tolls on the Severn bridges would be reduced if the Welsh government takes control of them. To be honest I would have been surprised if he had said anything different. Naturally the Con Dems want to retain control, as does the Department for Transport, aside from denying the Senedd the tools to do the job, rather than snubbing the people of Wales this probably has more to do with controlling a handy revenue stream.

I question the Labour in Wales Government’s sincerity when it comes to calling for control of the Severn Bridges (and the tolls) to be transferred to Wales. I suspect that they are trying to make as much political capital as possible with their calls to the Con Dem Government in Westminster transfer the Severn Bridges to Wales; it’s easy to do this when you know that the Con Dems won’t do it. It’s a good if cynical example of a pretty inert government creating the convenient  illusion that it is ‘standing up for Wales’.

Were the Con Dem Government, as part of the implementation of the Silk Commission recommendations, to offer as part of the package the transfer of the Severn Bridges (and control of the tolls) aside from shock I would not be surprised if Labour in Wales rejected the powers offered. Such an eventuality would in my opinion be as a result of the near nuclear explosion from Labour in Westminster Welsh MPs, numerous fevered telephone conversations down the M4 from Westminster and the Labour in Wales’s not so underlying lack of belief in the devolution for Wales.

At present it costs £6.20 to take a car over the M4 and M48 bridges from England to Wales, while driving into England is free. The bridge toll for vans and minibuses is £12.40 and for lorries and coaches is £18.60. A Welsh Government report last year suggested that abolishing the tolls could increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day.  The report also revealed that businesses and commuters spend £80 million pounds a year crossing the bridges.

At the moment the M4 and M48 Severn bridges are run by a private company (Severn Crossings Plc) carrying around 80,000 vehicles a day. The concession will finally come to an end and the bridges return to the UK government when takings from the tolls reach £996 million pounds (1989 prices) at some point in 2018. While the Labour in Wales’s government in Cardiff has expressed a desire to take control when they return to public ownership in about 2018, the Con Dem Westminster government has shown no inclination to make a decision about the bridges' future management one way of another.

If the Con Dems offer nothing of value then Carwyn will have to wait for a Labour Westminster government before he can get his hands on the Severn Bridges and the tolls. He may have a long wait for both a Labour Government in Westminster and any commitment from Labour in Westminster to transfer control of the Severn Bridges to the Senedd.  When the last Labour Government was in office before the financial crash there was scant commitment to transfer any powers or assets to Wales, so why should things change after the next Westminster general election.

Not a subsidised toll bridge near us...
When in office the Labour Westminster Government quietly subsidised the Humber Bridge tolls, but, made no move towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs and the tax on commuters that pass themselves off as the Severn bridge tolls. The Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Con Dem Coalition Government, who also shows no inclination to transfer control of the Severn Bridges to Wales or offer to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy.

The Conservatives in the Senedd have also proposed transferring the bridges to Wales, cutting the bridge tolls and using the proceeds to spend on infrastructure – which puts them out of step with their government in Westminster. 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.

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.

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, 21 May 2013


We modern humans have always lived in pretty well connected world, so if you think that there is no direct or even indirect connection between a public meeting about the plan to build a gas fired power station in Wrecsam and the suppression of a teacher union in Bahrain, then think again. The plan to build an £800 million pound gas-fired power station in Wrecsam, which Wrexham Power have said could create up to 1,200 construction jobs and 50 permanent posts on the proposed site at Wrecsam Industrial Estate, has led to the creation of an action group Wrecsam Residents Against Power Scheme (Wraps) whose concerned members have "many reservations" about the proposals for the gas fired power station.

The plan to construct (yet) another gas fired power station (in Wales) adding to ones constructed earlier in Pembrokeshire and in Newport (Gwent) is part of yet another Conservative inspired ‘dash to gas’. Whether the thrown bone of jobs is enough of a distracter to allow to project to go through on the nod is a matter of conjecture. If nothing else the Con Dem Westminster Government is running greater risks by increasing the UK’s dependency upon imported gas from the chronically unstable Persian Gulf and Russia.

Successive Westminster Governments should have been working consistently to ensure our energy independence. Instead they have presided over our increasing dependence on imported energy supplies and left energy planning to the privatised energy companies who are only interested in generating more profits.  Much of the gas for the new generation of gas fired power stations comes from the Persian gulf and despite Mr Cameron’s best efforts to sell the Gulf elites more rubber and real bullets than they can use in a month of Sundays the region remains chronically unstable.

Bahrain has a reputation as being quite the repressive regime having cracked down on protests for democracy in 2011. Amongst those arrested in the crackdown were members of the Bahrain Teachers Association. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for the release of the jailed president of the Bahrain Teachers Association, Mahdi Abu Dheeb. He was convicted by a military court of plotting to overthrow the government during unrest that swept Bahrain in 2011, receiving a 10 year sentence, reduced to five on appeal.

Mr Abu Dheeb and his vice-president Jalila al-Salman have made allegations that they were tortured in detention after calling for a strike by teachers in March 2011 to support pro-democracy activists who had occupied the Pearl Roundabout, in Manama (the capital city). The Bahrain Teachers Association was subsequently dissolved by the government after its leaders were arrested. Ms Salman was originally sentenced to three years in jail but that was reduced to six months on appeal. In March this year she was sacked from her teaching job after criticising Bahrain's human rights record at a conference in Washington DC.  All these people did was call a strike as trade union leaders.

This is where energy policy, political repression and Human Rights all meet up. On a very basic level, to have an energy strategy that is to all intents and purposes dependent on imported gas from a politically unstable region is questionable to say the least. Surely if nothing else the events of the Arab spring should have taught the West one thing at least, in that at some point even the most heavily tooled up repressive regime can fall if enough people are willing to challenge it. At which point when the lights begin to flicker where exactly will we be left standing?

Monday, 20 May 2013


When it comes to the Afghan tragedy, a few quotes spring to mind, Karl Marx said "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." Winston Churchill said, "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it" and “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” When it comes to Afghanistan there is more than enough history to provide enough examples of what to do and what to avoid.

A scene from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan
The long and bloody history of Afghanistan is littered literally with the would-be invaders who came to grief and eventually through in the towel and admitted defeat. This week, almost unnoticed an anniversary passed, Wednesday 15th May was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the then Soviet Union’s nine month long withdrawal from Afghanistan. Around 100,000 Soviet troops had left the war torn country by February 15, 1989. This was the conclusion to ten years of brutal warfare which had killed over 14,000 Soviet soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Afghan combatants and civilians.

Learning the lesson of history?
NATO forces have been on the ground in Afghanistan since the 7th October 2001, and preparations for NATO’s withdrawal (to be completed by 2014) are proceeding apace. Unlike their Soviet predecessors who treated much of Afghanistan as free fire zone, NATO forces have been relatively restrained when it comes to using their firepower. Despite this many people have argued that just like their Soviet predecessors NATO troops in Afghanistan now find themselves engaged in waging a campaign which is "unwinnable in military terms".

‘Lessons from Afghanistan’s History for the Current Transition and Beyond’ is a thought provoking paper produced by the MOD Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre makes interesting reading.  The paper has noted that between 1933 to 1973, Afghanistan was stable and reasonably effectively governed, however, that stability was firmly anchored in the two pillars of traditional local governance and the Afghan state such as it was a weak centralized though weak state, both of which were gravely damaged after 1978.

Afghanistan history’s is littered with a series of chronic succession problems and associated conflict, the next presidential election, if successful, would be the first peaceful transfer of leadership since 1933 and only the fourth since 1747. The paper also notes that any expectations about the pace of any progress and reform should be modest and the dangers of overly ambitious reforms leading to violent reactions need to be recognized.

A new approach to understanding Afghanistan’s transition’ has been produced by the United States Institute for Peace also makes interesting reading. This paper by way of comparison with other countries who have passed though conflict, significant military intervention and  a post conflict period of transition looks at Afghanistan and its preparedness for life after NATO. Amongst the key issues that this report flags up is the issue of foreign aid and its impact on Afghanistan.
Another military withdrawal from Afghanistan 
Of late there has been a relative flood of papers from a whole range of military and civilian institutes studying and analysing what has happen and what may happen in Afghanistan as NATO prepares to leave. While our soldiers and their families and many Afghans may carry the physical and mental scars for decades, the politicians (at least in the West) will probably do their best to air brush Afghanistan and the consequences of NATO’s intervention out of site and out of mind.

As someone who has had relatives who have served a number of tours in Afghanistan and have come back in one piece I will (no doubt along with more than a few other people) be more than grateful when the last NATO soldier hops on the last plane and comes home. Following NATO’S withdrawal I have little doubt that what will follow will be a public redefinition of ‘success’ at least as it is applied to Afghanistan. Quite where that leaves the Afghans and Afghan women's rights whatever future they face with a still active Taliban, rampant corruption and a curtailing of foreign aid remains to be seen, but nowhere good I suspect.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


Well before the last National Assembly elections I came to the conclusion that the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff was merely going through the motions when it comes to the government of our country. Rather than changing Wales for the better or even trying to plan for a prosperous and sustainable future it’s a case of sitting back and waiting for Labour in Westminster (London) to fix all our problems with periodic public spats with a convenient Con Dem government in London over issues that even a Westminster Labour Government would never devolve in a month of Sundays e.g. the Severn Bridge Tolls, etc.  

This if nothing else this shows the intellectual dependency on Westminster and London that runs through the heart of Labour in Wales at every level in every part of our country where Labour is in office.  At a very basic level, certainly locally in Newport (and no doubt elsewhere across our country) it appears to be literally about being there rather than doing anything in particular, that and enjoying as many of the trimmings as possible.

This is the real dependency culture that lies at the heart of the current Labour in Wales’s government in Cardiff; it revolves around the fantasy of waiting for Westminster to come to our rescue. When the next Labour in Westminster government will make it all better, banishing the nasty Tories and their cuts, etc, etc. This a fantasy, when the last Labour Government was in office well before the financial crash when the coffers were full and there was (in theory) no lack of political will; little was done to balance out the economic imbalance that lies at the heart of modern Union.  

Take energy, things are different in Scotland, as I have said before Wales is not Scotland; and what works in Scotland won’t necessarily work here. When it comes to energy generation, energy planning and growing jobs then Wales just like Scotland should be in a position to benefit from its rich natural resources. There are certainly more than enough Scottish examples to show that a whole range of entirely practical steps have been taken to generate sustainable alternative energy and jobs.

One particularly good example of the practical and the possible is the new hydro power scheme in Ross-shire which has just been given planning approval, ironically on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the hydro power industry in Scotland. The £3 0 million pound scheme near Ardross will supply power to 4,000 homes and SSE will begin construction on the 7.5 megawatt (MW) Glasa scheme later on this year.

First Minister, Alex Salmond said: "Hydro-electric and its role in producing energy is one of the greatest industrial success stories of post-war Scotland. Hydro drove not only industrial development but also immense social achievement - something which still rings true today as the Scottish government continues to grow delivery of clean energy through renewables schemes for the 21st Century and also by retaining support for new conventional hydro schemes."

This year Scotland is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the legislation which began the Highland hydro development boom. A 1943 parliamentary act kick-started the ‘Power from the Glens’ campaign; it brought large-scale hydro power to Scotland's lochs and rivers. After the Hydro Electric Development (Scotland) Act was passed in 1943, work started on the construction of dozens of dams and power stations.

At its peak, the workforce numbered about 12,000 men. After the Second World War, men from all over Scotland came to work on the schemes, attracted by high wages. The Glasa development will be the biggest since the Queen opened the Glendoe pump storage tunnel near Loch Ness some four years ago. Hydro electric power is an important source of energy in Scotland, where there is now some 1.5 gigawatts of capacity, or enough to supply energy to more than 900,000 homes.

A recent report has suggested that the renewable energy industry could create more than 10,000 jobs on Scotland's islands by 2030, according to a government-commissioned study. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would benefit from wind, wave and tidal schemes, the Scottish Islands Renewable Project final report stated. The research commissioned by the UK and Scottish governments, also highlighted the necessity of ensuring that those areas were power could be generated were connected to those areas where there was a demand for the power.

The generation of renewable energy could bring "significant benefits" to local economies through direct and indirect jobs. The report estimated that by 2020, 392 full-time jobs could be created on the Western Isles, 463 in Shetland, 416 in Orkney and 3,000 across the rest of the UK. The report suggested that by 2030 the job numbers on the islands could increase to more than 3,500 on the Western Isles, almost 2,900 in Shetland, and more than 4,500 on Orkney.

Other potential benefits of developing the renewable energy industry on Scotland's islands were also highlighted, including that the project could reduce fuel poverty and halting a declining population. Over the last 100 years the isles' population had fallen by 43% to 26,100 in 2011. The isles, researchers noted had a lower gross weekly pay compared with the rest of the UK.

Our country is rich in natural resources, some of which could be used to generate sustainable green energy and energy schemes that will deliver real benefits to our communities. While we do have some serious hydro electric projects in Wales, and not just large scale ones just like they do in Scotland, the real difference is one of scale, history and the political will.

In Wales we are in a difficult situation as while we have some of the powers necessary to create and develop sustainable green energy, what we appear to lack, at least within the current Labour in Wales government is the political will to actually do anything. We need to avoid the grim combination of Con Dem Westminster Government’s indifference (if not hostility) towards green energy and the Labour in Wales Government’s readily apparent lethargy towards smaller scale community beneficial green energy schemes. 

Friday, 17 May 2013


I welcome the news that funding has been secured for new railway station at Pye Corner, on the line between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale after the UK government awarded the scheme some £ 2.5 million pounds. The new station which will include a a single platform and a car park with 70 spaces should be up and running by the end of 2014, in time for the Ebbw Vale line's planned electrification. This follows last week’s announcement that £ 11.5 million pounds worth of funding has been earmarked for the new Ebbw Vale Town rail station. The Ebbw Vale Town station will also be a single platform at the Works, on the redeveloped steelworks site. The Ebbw Vale line has been re-opened since 2008 and is among the south Wales valleys and commuter lines to be electrified sometime between 2014 and 2019 as part of a £350m investment.

A simple question - single track?
Putting to one side the as yet restored rail link into Newport (not to mention the need for new stations at Caerleon, Llanwern and Magor) for the moment, this is good, if belated news. I continue to question the decision to build single platform railway stations (save where the track is doubled from Crosskeys to Risca). This decision has and continues to directly impact on the frequency of the rail services that can be run, without double platforms and passing loops at all of the station on the line, we are talking about a relatively reduced up and down rail service.  If I was being generous I might suggest that it might be case of Network Rail and the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff bay thinking along the lines of ‘Give them that [limited service], they will be grateful as something is better than nothing’.

Or double track?
At some point I have little doubt that we (the tax payers) will have to fork out the cash to build double platforms and passing loops along the length of the Ebbw Vale line if only to upgrade the infrastructure and ensure a far more regular service. I find this basic lack of common sense and even basic foresight quite disturbing, if would have been far more sensible to restore the whole line to double track working from the start. That said, the new stations at Pye Corner and in Ebbw Vale are a gain, but, why not build them with double platforms  - it will save us all time and money later.

Thursday, 16 May 2013


The Sainsbury’s Local supermarket in the village of Caerleon at the site of the Angel Hotel on Goldcroft Common will open before Christmas, and according to the developer will create up to 25 jobs. The demolition of the Angel Hotel is proceeding and construction work is due to begin shortly on the new supermarket, which will have  a footfall of some 385 square metres (with ten parking spaces to the rear).

A work in progress - the site of the Angel
Just after the City Council elections in May last year, the new Labour dominated quietly approved a request from council planning officials to recommend that Sainsbury’s plan to convert the Angel Hotel in Caerleon into a convenience store be approved. The proposals which had been put forward by Hillvale Properties who operated on behalf of Sainsbury’s prompted over 1,700 people to sign petitions against it, and 127 neighbours to write letters of objection.  

Local people told the council that the plan to turn the pub, located on Goldcroft Common, Caerleon, into a 385 square metre retailer with two flats on the first floor would “exacerbate an already dangerous and difficult traffic situation”. Concerns were raised that local shops – several independent retailers including a sandwich shop and a Spar are nearby – would close, while the petition said the historical character and sense of community in Caerleon would be tarnished.

There are also concerns about anti-social behaviour, noise to residents, and parking which is claimed is already at saturation point in the area. As someone who periodically travels on the bus to and from work past the Angel, parking can at times be grim in and around the area of the Angel and traffic congestion is a real  issue.

For reasons beholden unto themselves City planners noted that a new store opening would “enhance” the Caerleon district centre, add to its “retail floorspace” and suggested that the store was unlikely to harm the village centre’s viability. The planners duly noted that the Spar and Pipers News shops may lose trade, but “it is not the role of the planning system to restrict competition”.  This may well be a fair point but what about any real investigation into the economic impact of the development on the village?

The planner had also noted that traffic concerns were “understandable”, but had added “there is no robust evidence” that the proposal would result in “a significant and harmful increase in traffic.” Spaces for seven customer cars during deliveries would meet parking requirements, and Gwent Police had raised no objection to the proposal. The planners had also called for conditions imposing restricted delivery hours.

The recommendation was to proceed with the application, despite any local objections. One question that should be loudly asked is just who is the planning system serving, clearly not the expressed wishes of the residents of Caerleon. I have no doubt that if the City Councillors vote down the proposed development that they will be told that the developer will appeal and keep appealing until they get the result they want and that this will cost a small fortune.

Now, none of this is new, the larger food retailers are systematically targeting the small shopping areas across Wales and the rest of the UK as they aggressively seek every greater profits and a larger market share. If this development goes a head the medium to long term impact on Caerleon will be a loss of trade, jobs and customer choice.  This is not the first time that this has happened in Newport, and it will not be the last.

Back in June 2011  Tesco won their appeal against an initial decision to turn down planning permission for a new store.  Over 500 people had objected to Tesco plans to open an Express store in a dis-used pub, the Black Horse Inn on Somerton Road. The Council planning officers had on that occasion recommended that the application be refused over concerns about congestion and road safety issues and a lack of parking provision.

Local residents also objected on grounds of the impact of the development on existing shops. The Council's planning committee considered the application on 1st April 2009 and rejected the plans. The then planning committee recommended refusal on three grounds - that it would be detrimental to the vitality and viability of nearby retail centres; insufficient parking; substandard access.

The Planning Inspectorate however allowed Tesco to appeal to convert the former Black Horse Inn pub on Somerton Road into an Express store. The Tesco PR machine no doubt rolled out the usual claptrap about creating jobs and boosting the local economy , here should have been little doubt that the planned new Tesco Express store in Somerton, is part of an aggressive business strategy expressly targeting local shops and small businesses in local shopping areas, with a view to taking their trade. This is part of a recognised problem which is taking place across Wales and which does not just relate to Tesco but most of the other larger UK wide retail chains.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has long noted that the UK loses approximately 2,000 local shops every year and should this continue then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that effects consumers and communities as they effectively lose any real choice in the marketplace. Over recent years across all of Wales, that particularly useful mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under increasing pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our towns.

Our planning process has been fundamentally weakened and effectively undermined, as local authorities fear the cost implications of supermarket applications being taken to appeal after appeal if the original outline planning permission is refused. We are proceeding down a slippery slope, when Councillors end up being advised by their officers to grant planning permission less the potential costs of refusing a development proposal from a large company prove to damaging - so much for local democracy!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


There is much to commend Plaid Cymru’s Plan C which concisely and clearly identifies the linked nature of economic renewal and economic recovery necessary to get our country back on its feet economically.  Simply relying on the failed models of economic development and redevelopment to get our country out of the economic hole that we are in just won’t work. We need to change Wales and break the link with the economic consequences of the financial crisis which was largely caused by the banking sector.
Plaid Cymru's Plan C
What Plan C offers is realistic achievable alternative to the years of economic stagnation and austerity which are all that’s being offered by the Westminster based political parties. One way that the Welsh government can make a real and lasting economic difference is by maximising the economic opportunities offered to  Welsh businesses via its procurement policy.

A ‘buy local’ campaign is a real economic must, this will necessitate legislation to improve public procurement, something that can provide real opportunities for Welsh based business within the procurement chain – potentially this could create some 50,000 new jobs. Significantly improved local procurement policy can create and secure jobs, boost employment levels and help small to medium sized enterprises in many of our communities.

At a very basic level it comes down to maximising the local economic opportunities from the £ 4.3 billion pound public sector spend in Wales – which is used to procure and purchase goods and services.  There have been some real improvements when it comes to public procurement over the last ten years, but, there is still room for substantial improvements to be made.  The increase in Welsh procurement of goods and services from 34% in 2003 to 52%  (June 2012) something that follows extensive efforts by Plaid Cymru as part of the One Wales government (between 2007 and 2011).

If we are going to spend public money then we need to work it hard and maximise the economic impact every penny and every pound and to make sure that it works to help the Welsh economy. At present for every £2 spent procuring goods and services, £1 of that immediately ‘leaks’ out of Wales.  Value Wales has suggested that for each 1% increase in goods or services procured from Wales, around 2,000 jobs are created.

So if we can achieve a local public spend of something close to 75% then potentially some 46,000 additional jobs can be created. The impact of a well thought out and implemented public procurement policy is something that could economically give and give again. This is the crux of the matter, it could be a real win win situation for Wales, potentially cutting unemployment by around a third or about the same number as the increase in unemployment that we have suffered since the recession began.

Before people kick off and say that the setting targets is ruled out by European Union regulations, there is a enough freedom of action to significantly increase procurement from firms (based in our country) to 75% within the existing rules. There are more than enough examples of this from elsewhere in Europe where in Germany and France some 98% of the value of public contracts are won by companies within their borders.

The 2012 McClelland review shows what can be accomplished with good examples of best practice.  The review recommended legislation to ensure that public bodies involved in the public procurement process are required to appoint specialist procurement officers, and that Welsh Government guidelines are followed.

We have some excellent examples of public procurement including the Arbed scheme to improving housing energy efficiency where 41 of the 51 companies involved in the scheme (80%) were based in Wales. Other good examples are the Church Village and Porthmadog bypass contracts which were agreed when Ieuan Wyn Jones was Economy and Transport Minister where local training clauses were used to good effect.

Local procurement and business opportunities can be boosted encouraging contracts that are ‘small’ and ‘unbundled’ as well as maximising opportunities for consortia of small local firms to bid for larger contracts. Better thought out public procurement contracts can include public benefit clauses which can boost the chances of local firms winning bids and contracts rather than ending up automatically rejected or excluded from participating in the procurement process.

There is no reason why commitments to local training, carbon footprint reduction and the use of the Welsh language cannot be built into public procurement contracts where they are appropriate. There could be a knock on effect from all of this aside from local economic gains as the investment in skills and companies will provide spin-offs across the country delivering improved employment rates. More jobs and more secure jobs will boost wages as business success grows there will be more opportunities for better training and improved business practices.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Boris Johnson the London Mayor has called for devolved taxation for London, a first step to borrowing powers no doubt. The Westminster Government, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are able to borrow to invest funds in large infrastructure projects. Yet, we in Wales have no borrowing powers despite having law making powers, a situation that is both untenable and unjust in my opinion. The failure to include anything about borrowing powers in the pending Wales Bill, is a real  lost opportunity and perpetuates the constitutional status quo. 

In the modern world, despite the banking crisis, whether we like it or not governments borrow, the real argument should not be over borrowing powers, rather about what infrastructure schemes that our government in Cardiff wants to invest in and whether they deliver value for money. A variety of  dubious expensive infrastructure projects have been touted from time to time as providing the justification for having borrowing powers including the exceptionally poor value for money and environmentally destructive M4 Relief road.

The hair brained M4 relief road across the Gwent levels would come in at around £1 billion pounds plus and would provide few realistic medium, let alone long term benefits, as it is a short term solution. Amongst the reasons why the option of the M4 relief road (South of Newport) was dropped relatively recently a few years ago; aside for the financial cost (around £1 billion pounds) and environmental impact was the key issue of the funding model. Ministers were advised that not only would the new relief road to be subjected to tolls, but so would the existing M4 would also be tolled. 

Interestingly enough the only other toll road in the UK is the M6 in the Midlands which has seen toll prices increase by 175% since it was opened. Another reason why this option was dropped was because of evidence gained from the operation of the M6 toll road - which had never made any money because motorists can avoid it by using nearby non tolled motorways.  That M6 tolled Motorway has seen the number of users drop and it has done nothing to reduce congestion.

It is simply unacceptable for motorists to end up paying tolls on the Severn bridges, on the existing M4 any potential new relief road.  There are already significant complaints about the cost of the tolls on the Severn bridges and an additional burden on motorists and businesses can no way be justified.  A far more realistic financially viable longer term fix to the problem of the exiting M4 would be to upgrade the Southern Distributor Road – something that would offer a realistic more easily accessible alternative route in the event of any future M4 blocking accidents.

This solution would not only provide an alternative route to the M4 in the event of periodic accident related closures and congestion but would provide much better value for money coming in at around £300 million. If you are going to spend what is in effect public money then the bottom line is that you need to work it hard and maximise every benefit and every gain for the tax payers who will end up paying for it one way or another. With more powers come greater responsibilities  and with them both should come greater public accountability and transparency on the part of government when it comes to financial choices . 

Thursday, 9 May 2013


As someone brought up in a Port town, with a grandfather and uncles who served in the merchant navy, one way and another the Battle of the Atlantic was a silent companion through my childhood years - this would probably apply to anyone of my generation who grew up in any Welsh port. With merchant sailors turned Dockers for relatives, I was aware form a young age, admittedly via understandably watered down stories and tales of the sea (and later of the war at sea), that some of my family members had been involved in something called the "Battle of the Atlantic" and they were some of the ones who made it back home.

The name "Battle of the Atlantic" was itself coined by Winston Churchill (in February 1941) and described the "longest, largest, and most complex" naval battle in history. The campaign began immediately after the European war began, lasted six years with barely a let up and involved thousands of ships. There were more than 100 convoy battles and also perhaps over 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre of war that covered thousands of square miles of ocean. 

Over 30,000 men from the Merchant Navy lost their lives between 1939–1945. More than 2,400 British ships were sunk. The ships were crewed by sailors from all over the then British Empire, with sailors from India and China (25%), and  from the West Indies, Middle East and Africa (5%). The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming surface raiders (by the end of 1942( and the U-boats (by mid-1943), although losses to U-boats continued to war's end.

This costly fight was a victory for the Allies, without their costly victory with some 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships being sunk. Without this hard one victory it is quite possible that the liberation of Europe would have been delayed if not postponed and D-day would probably not have happened when it did.

So rightly, yesterday the battle of the Atlantic is being remembered and commemorated on the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle (May 1943), when the corner was turned.  Further commemorations are to take place in London between 8th  and 13th  May, in Derry between 10th  and 12th  May, and in Liverpool between 24th  and 27th May.

When we finally end up with a maritime museum for the South East preferably in Newport (as part of the National Museum), aside from containing the restored remains of the ‘Newport Ship’ and the Barlands farm Romano-Celtic boat, there should be a gallery that focuses on the Merchant Navy (and it’s place in our history) which includes amongst them being the lifeboat from the Anglo-Saxon. This should be a lasting and permanent dedicated memorial to those quiet heroes and also to those who never came back to tell their tales. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Despite the spin (which is clearly not working) the impression you get is that the Con Dem Coalition Government is actually quite shambolic. If you wanted a specific government department in Westminster and Whitehall to sum up the coalition then you need look no further than the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This pretty important ministry has gone through three energy ministers in the last year, which considering this ministry allegedly looks after one of the most complex areas of legislation in Whitehall, hardly suggests any minister has had time to gain an understanding of their brief. 

This resembles little more of an expense game of musical chairs. As noted elsewhere this farce is reminiscent of Labour’s approach to the defence brief, which for those who can be asked to remember managed to feature a largely forgettable cast of nonentities, something that barely made good politics, let alone suggested that anyone had a grasp of the complexities of their ministerial brief.  Back at the DECC, the ministerial game of musical chairs had also been paralleled with a significant turnover of senior civil servants, which does not suggest that the ministry is a happy ship let alone getting on with it’s job.  

A recent report on the UK energy sector by Liberum Capital suggested that the problems at the ministry may be the least of our problems, as they suggest that current UK Energy Policy is just not plausible.  Their view is that successive UK governments have grossly underestimated the engineering, financial, and economic challenges that are posed by the drive to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030. The necessary move from a largely fossil fuel based power system to one dominated by renewables (and if Westminster and Whitehall get their way nuclear) in about a decade and a half, while keeping the lights on and consumer bills affordable, may well be simply unattainable. 

It has been estimated that the total required investment to deliver policy goals is some £161 billion pounds from now up until 2020 and some £376 billion pounds up until 2030. Even with the large projected increase in public support (which will largely fund the nuclear programme and its subsidy) provided by the Energy Bill, Liberum Capital suggest that it is difficult to envisage that the finance will be forthcoming when the large European Utility companies are actually reducing capital expenditure. The really scary bit, other than the prospect of periodic power cuts, is that even if the investment actually happens they consumers may see electricity bills rise by at least 30% by 2020 and 100% by 2030 in real terms. 

When the energy crisis (which incidentally probably won’t happen in Scotland) arrives, considering the current level of hostility being directed at the excessive profits being generated and directed towards the members of the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel, I would not be surprised if whatever government who happens to be in power does not move towards a return to some form of public or state ownership.  When we get there may be three main casualties, firstly  the government of the day who are unlucky enough to be in power , secondly the consumers (us) who may be left literally sat in the dark and the cold and finally thirdly the large energy companies (and their shareholders). 

I have no doubt that when that when the lights begin to flicker that whoever is in government (regardless of the party label) will move rapidly to protect themselves and the electorate (who also happen to be energy consumers) by securing control of the means of energy production and distribution regardless of the consequences for the energy cartel members. The real questions that may well never be answered will be why did it take so long for the Westminster government to wake up to the consequences of not really having an energy development policy and why did they leave energy planning to a cartel that were only concerned with ramping up profits?

The lights may not go out in Scotland, where successive Scottish Governments have consistently worked to tackle the threat of Climate change and develop sustainable energy reserves. Scotland is working towards a plan for a 42% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, rising to 80% by 2050. These proposals which were first unveiled in 2009 are far more ambitious than anything that has been proposed in Westminster,  where the 2020 target (set before the Con Dems came to power) for cutting carbon emissions has been set at 34%. The Scottish Government has already set out a wide-ranging vision to address climate change, which includes a drive to boost renewable energy such as wind and wave power.

Scottish Ministers also aim to see significant progress in boosting the energy efficiency of buildings, increase the number of electric vehicles on the roads and aim to cut in emissions across the farming and rural sector. This is serious forward thinking on the part of the Scottish government as energy experts have for several years been consistently warning of a serious future shortfall in Britain's energy supplies. Control of energy policy needs to be devolved to the National Assembly and it’s time for some original non nuclear thinking and a fundamental sea change in attitude from government in Wales when it comes to energy policy. 

Imagine what we could do if our Government (in Cardiff) possessed similar powers (and the political will and imagination) to develop the alternative energy sector here in Wales as is being done in Scotland. Rather than empty platitudes we need real direction when it comes to the development of safe and secure energy resources as power generation can provide the potential for real community beneficial and sustainable long term job opportunities. The renewable energy sector should play an immensely important role in creating more green energy jobs and make sure that our lights stay on rather than end up dancing in the dark!.

Friday, 3 May 2013


Somewhat understandably like many Newport County and Wrecsam fans I have Wembley on my mind at the moment and am looking forward to the Blue Square Premier Play off final, which will take palce at 3pm at Wembley Staium on Sunday 5th May. While Wembley in the one hundred and first year of our existence will be a special occasion, espcially as the County are on form and there is everything to play for, it's a pity it's not being played in the Millenium Stadium, which would have made it even better. Perhaps this time there will be a degree of more reasonably balanced coverage of the build up to the game on the part of BBC Cymru / Wales this time. I think that Wales manager Chris Coleman was absolutetly right when he said that says Newport and Wrexham will both be in the Football League within two years regardless of who wins Sunday's Blue Square Bet Premier promotion final -
personally I can live with going up this year. That said, and putting Football tribalism aside it has been a pretty good year for the other Welsh football clubs (and Welsh football period what with Mr Bale and the prospects of the Cymru / Wales participating in the next European Championships). I am pleased that Swansea City have retained their Premiership status and am looking forward to them playing in the Europa league next season, as a result of winning the League CUp. I am also pleased that Cardiff City have joined them, not just getting promoted but actually wining the championship as well. I was very pleased to see that Colwyn Bay (who won six games back to back) have retained their place in Conference North and am glad that Merthyr Town have made it to their play-off final - fingers crossed they get promoted this season.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


You may get the impression from time to time that that our country is littered with the remnants of failed models of economic development, most of them having failed to deliver long term economic benefits and more than a few long term jobs to our people and our communities. Perhaps what needed is to step away from the centralised state dependent model of economic development, as successive Westminster governments (regardless of party) have pretty much consistently failed to deliver for Wales. 

 While we do need some fresh economic thinking, we need to think differently and to find other economic models that can deliver sustainable long term jobs and lasting material benefits to our communities and to our country. Our over-dependence on Westminster or Cardiff Bay for that matter to solve our economic problems is understandable considering the nature of our economic and political history, but, is in my opinion regrettable. 

The days of bringing in significant amounts of ‘inward investment’ are probably realistically over, Westminster has better things to spend its money on, at least as far as it is concerned. What we need are indigenous home grown businesses which will put down roots and stick around when economic times are tough rather than pulling up sticks and bugging out when the grant money runs out. We need to develop small to medium sized enterprises or local co-operative industries which will provide medium to long term sustainable job opportunities.

The co-operative model has worked well in Ireland and in the Basque country, there is no reason why it cannot work well here in Wales. The Basque cooperative model, as personified by Mondragon co-operative shows what can be accomplished. To grow local businesses and local jobs we are going to have create a real Bank of Wales, perhaps using the German Sparkasse and Landesbanken model which operate on a strictly regional basis and focuses support to local industries. 

At present too many small and medium sized businesses in our country are being denied credit by banks and this has prevented the growth of our private sector. The German Sparkasse and Landesbanken operate on a geographical basis, and have developed special expertise in the local industries so that they are better equipped to make investment decisions. The over centralised dividend driven rootless banking model that has been followed in the UK is incapable or unwilling to deliver or support economic development in Wales. 

Adam Price, rightly recently pointed out that“there are some great contemporary examples of Welsh co-operation at work.  Time-banking was a great idea developed by American Edgar Cahn, but it’s in the south Wales Valleys that it’s taken deepest root.  Antur Aelhaiarn, the UK’s first community co-operative, is still going strong after thirty years.  Glas Cymru is such a unique example of utility-based mutualism that Harvard has made it a case study.   But these wonderful examples are so often beacons without bridges, lone successes that have never scaled into a full-flung Mondragon-like movement”.
Jobs with Mondragon
Mondragon which is a collective of around 250 companies and organisations based in the Basque Country is proving to be one of the moreresilient economic success stories in recession-hit Spain. The Basque co-operative may well be the world's largest worker co-operative, it is certainly helping the Basque economy to try and resist the worst ravages of the recession in Spain. The company was established in 1956, in the province of Gipuzkoa; employs around 83,800 people with a business philosophy built around co-operation, participation, social responsibility and innovation. 

It began small, with a group of workers in a disused factory, literally using hand tools and sheet metal to make oil-fired heating and cooking stoves. It is now a large conglomerate with over 260 manufacturing, retail, financial, agricultural, civil engineering and support co-operatives and associated businesses; and has annual sales in excess of $US 20 billion (2012 figures). The Cooperative competes on international markets using democratic methods within its business organisation, helps to create jobs, and is committed to the human and professional development of its workers and pledges to development with its social environment. 

The unemployment rate in the Basque Country is 15%, and lower in the province of Gipuzkoa, (where much of Mondragon is based), the unemployment rate in Spain as a whole is now 25%. Some parts of the co-operative are wholly owned, others are run as joint venture operations, with some 114 local and overseas subsidiaries, which are committed to converting to employee ownership on a case-by-case basis, being consistent with local laws, customs and other cultural and economic considerations. The Mondragon group’s credit union (Caja Laboral) is now practically Spain’s ninth largest bank and continues to recover from an initial 75% reduction in its profitability, unlike the other Spanish banks which are still flat lining. 

Co-operative members as equal co-owners of their own workplaces, enjoy job security and individual capital holdings, with an equal sharing of profits on a proportionate basis and an equal ‘one-member one vote’ say in the way their enterprises are run. Pay within the cooperatives is strictly egalitarian, with the highest rates payable other than in exceptional circumstances being no more than six and a half times the lowest. 

We can learn a great deal from the example Mondragon and its methods when it comes generating and retaining sustainable jobs. There is no reason why the co-operative approach cannot be used to bring in a community upward slow burn approach to economic development, something that will not just provide local jobs but real community beneficial sustainable developments which can transform our communities and our country’s economic potential.