Wednesday, 31 July 2013


If we are serious about developing small to medium sized enterprises (SMES) then there is a need for a new business bank (for Wales) to help small and medium sized businesses grow to reach their potential. At the moment (and sadly probably for the foreseeable future) many of our small and medium sized enterprises are  being denied credit by banks and this is smothering potential economic growth and the expansion of our private sector. A Bank of Wales, could potentially run in the same way that the Sparkasse and Landesbanken (in Germany) which operate on a strictly regional basis and aim to support local industries and businesses.

This is not a particularly new or radical idea, it may well be one who’s moment has arrived. We should remember that historically we once had a network of local banks focused on the drovers who moved livestock to sell in the larger export market. Local banks were killed off in the last quarter of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century’s as financial services were increasingly amalgamated, centralised and standardised (in London). This did little for local entrepreneurs, business people and has done little for ordinary bank customers as banks have been increasingly run to serve their own needs rather than those of the people. 

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

During it’s relatively short life, what was known in some circles as the Plaid driven One Wales Government made real efforts 
to act differently when it came to economic development and to provide support for SMEs. They can and should play a significant role at the heart of our communities; they create wealth and sustainable medium to long term employment opportunities for local people often with more flexible working conditions.

Since May 2011 the Labour in Wales government has simply dusted off the old and unsuccessful Welsh office model of economic development. Simply attracting branch factory operations of a relative short term duration does not help develop or sustain our economy. More than ever we really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.

As has been noted elsewhere profits and investments made by home grown locally rooted businesses tend to stay within the communities where they are based for longer. So the concept of new Bank of Wales business bank to help small and medium sized businesses is one realistic way of enabling SME’s to grow and create wealth in our communities, not to mention developing and sustaining longer term employment possibilities.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


I have been a regular visitor to the Royal Gwent to visit a close relative at various times pretty much every day over the last three weeks. This means that I have seen the hospital (and its surround) both exceptionally busy and reasonably quiet (trust me reasonably quiet is a relative term). Whilst visiting I have seen the ambulances stacked up to drop off patients and parked all over the place either waiting for calls or simply waiting for the next busy day.  

Stacked up ambulances at a hospital near you!
Now we used to have a network ambulance stations (and small hospitals) scattered across much of our country, but, most of them appear as far as I can see to have been sold off to cash in on housing boom prior to the turn of the millennium. This is no doubt a contributory factor to the problem of poor ambulance response times. Some three weeks ago it took the best part of three hours for an ambulance to arrive for a close relative and that was in the middle of our country's third largest city - heaven help if you life in a rural area or the valleys.

What might make sense would be for ambulances to be based out at our (surviving) network of fire stations, in a perfect world along with some of the our Police to be based with them. One result of the Con Dem inspired public sector cuts will be a sell off of police stations across our country so as sure as day follows night, they will need somewhere to go. Ideally a network of dispersed emergency service stations would help to ensure that response times and perhaps lead to better emergency service co-ordination  - just a thought!

Monday, 29 July 2013


Mainline railways in Wales
The news that the plan to redouble part of the north-south Wales rail between Wrecsam and Saltneyconnection is under review (by Transport Minister Edwina Hart and Network Rail), and the news that the promised hourly train service on the CambrianLine has been ditched as the Transport Minister has now suggested that the provision of an hourly service was now a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ is not good. This when combined with the lack of movement on the final link between the Ebbw Vale line into Newport (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) may be ominous. 

The re-doubling of the line between Wrecsam and Saltney (single track since the 1980s) was scheduled to have been completed by 2015, would have enabled trains to travel up to 90mph (114km/h) in some sections, and improved journey times between the north and the south. Previously the promised hourly service on the Cambrian line had been a ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ and was only being held up by the need for infrastructure improvements. The final link into Newport would give commuters the opportunity to travel to work in Newport and Bristol without having to drive or go to Cardiff Central and would also allow services to be run between Abergavenny and Ebbw vale, potentially adding extra off peak services for passengers.

Now back in February, the Western Mail (28th February 2013) revealed that road schemes will provide scant benefits for our economy. It also went on to list six far more beneficial rail schemes which appeared to have been quietly kicked into the long grass:  
  • Aberystwyth (Bow Street): new station outside the town with car parking (with an estimated cost between £1.5 and £2 million (2011)).This could have provided 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 (with an estimated cost £16.7 million (2012)). This could have provided a key rail link for Abertillery to Cardiff (and possibly to Newport).
  • Bridgend: new station at Brackla, upgraded track and signals at Tondu (with an estimated cost £12 million (2005)). This could have meant that the train service from Maesteg to Cardiff could have run every 30 minutes.
  • Llantrisant: new railway line (on old track) and new stations at St Fagans, Talbot Green, Llantrisant, Gwaun Meisgyn and Beddau (with an estimated cost £37 million pounds (2011)). This could have provided a rail service into Cardiff. 
  • Nelson: new stations at Nelson, Trelewis and Bedlinog (with an estimated cost £7.9 million (2011)). This could have boosted 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 (with an estimated cost £43 million (2011)).  This could have help with the provision of trains from Chepstow into Cardiff every 30 minutes and cut congestion on the roads.
Now to be honest this could be a serious of unfortunately timed coincidences, rather than the Labour in Wales Government (in Cardiff) choosing to focus on roads over rail and east – west communications (including the grossly expensive and environmentally damaging M4 Relief Road) rather than focusing on all of our country. Yet perhaps it is no coincidence at all, the real issue is that Labour in Wales and much of the higher levels of the civil service; simply don’t believe in Wales or the devolution project. This has resulted in the quiet undoing of much of the constructive all Wales approach to transport infrastructure that was developed between 2007 and 2011 by Ieuan Wyn Jones, the then Deputy First Minister in the Plaid driven One Wales Government.

Sunday, 28 July 2013


The odds...
When it comes to sport half the problem is anticipation, before a sporting season begins, especially, when it comes to following a Welsh Football team. Having clinched the play-off spot in an unbelievably tense 90 minutes at Wembley last May (2013), now Newport County face a fresh season in League Two. Here’s hoping that Wrecsam Town get promoted this season and join us. Perhaps this season there will be a degree of more reasonably balanced coverage from BBC Cymru / Wales. Putting Football tribalism aside it was a pretty good year for the other Welsh football clubs (and Welsh football period what with the prospects of the Cymru / Wales participating in the next European Championships). I was pleased that Swansea City not only retained their Premiership status and won the League Cup, which means that they are in with a shout of qualifying for the Europa League. I was also chuffed that Cardiff City joined them in the Premiership by winning the championship title. I was also pleased to see that Colwyn Bay have retained their place in Conference North and am hopeful that Merthyr Town can get back to winning ways and can get promoted this season.

Friday, 26 July 2013


The news that the number of new limited companies registered in Wales has gone up by more than 20% is good news. Companies House say 469 new firms were registered with them in 2012, when compared with 386 in 2011. This increase is actually higher than the UK average but it has to be balanced by the sobering news that the number of company failures in Wales also rose when they fell on average across the UK.

A number of my friends run their own businesses, so I am fully aware of the pitfalls and the opportunities that can await anyone who goes into business for themselves. With a good idea, a sound business case, timely support and advice it can work out. Our small businesses can create wealth and sustainable employment opportunities for local people and play a significant role at the heart of our communities. Their profits and investments tend to stay within the communities where they are based.

For too many years economic development in Wales has been focused on large scale development of what can be best described a single egg solutions. They promise much in the short to medium term yet often deliver significantly less over the long term, if they survive. The latest figures show that Wales saw a 191% rise in the number of projects, by way of comparison with a 41% increase in Northern Ireland, a 16% rise in Scotland and a 10% increase in England (outside of London).

The statistics have been released by UK Trade andInvestment (UKTI), the Westminster government department responsible for exports and inward investment. There is no breakdown of the number of jobs created or safeguarded (in Wales) by these projects; the BBC says that Welsh government says they created of 2,605 jobs and safeguarded another 4,442 in the 2012/13 financial year.

Despite rise in the number of projects, Wales' share of the UK total inward investment accounts for 4%, is much lower than the high point of the 1980s and 1990s. Now this is good news, but, our focus should be on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants.

We are still too focused on attracting large scale single enterprises, which promise much but deliver significantly less than anticipated. The LG development near Newport, is a good example of an expensive white elephant which promised the usual total of 6,000 jobs and accrued significant public funding (£376 million pounds at the last count) which was committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague.

The promises and the pledges and the public funding  never quite managed to deliver anything like what was promised. While anyone with a basic  understanding of the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies at the time that, let alone a basic understanding of where technological developments was going in relation to PC monitor screens, would have put their hands up and said hang on a moment.

What can best be described as a combination of fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and the prospect of looking good with a forthcoming Westminster election looming led to one of the spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made. The old WDA had in truth never really consistently delivered anything like long term economic stability and much needed long term job opportunities to our communities that it should have done.

The European funding opportunities available to Wales (as a result of economic mismanagement on the part of successive Westminster governments) may well turn out to have been squandered on schemes that fail to deliver measurable results yet manage to deliver fat salaries to the managers. Much of the money has been scammed into dubious schemes and training programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy.

Anyone who has visited Spain and Ireland prior to the self inflicted banking crash will have seen (and can see) the results of years of European regional investment the question we should be asking is where are the physical assets? By this I mean the things you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail, railway stations, etc), broadband infrastructure, etc?

The Westminster, Welsh Office, WDA model of concentrating on attracting branch factory operations of a relative short term duration has failed to develop and sustain our economy. Back between 2007 and 2011 the Plaid driven One Wales Government made significant efforts and tried to think and act differently when it comes to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises.

Small businesses should be the life blood of our urban centres, yet, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has long noted that the UK is losing around 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss is dangerously unacceptable. In a few years unless things change there will be precious few no independent retailers left in business, something that will hammer both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential job opportunities.

Now as someone who now and then takes the bus to work and walks through streets that were once the retail heart of Newport (nominally Wales’s third largest city) I can see with my own eyes the economic realities of our situation. Over the last twenty five years the commercial heart of many of our communities has been shattered as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains, exceptionally poor decision making on the part of local government and central government indifference.

This combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable, ill-thought out of and edge of town retail developments has effectively left no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers. When you factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities then you can begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it.

Local small businesses as well as trading with us the consumers, also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford. We really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on developing and supporting smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities too our people.

The Welsh Government needs to have the power (and the vision) to remove or reduce business taxes to help boost our businesses, to encourage investment in skills, technology and  workers. If we are going to make Wales a nation of aspiring entrepreneurs and to encourage and enable them, our communities and our economy to flourish we also need to encourage the development of community owned social enterprises.

A few years ago the Rowlands review into the provision of growth capital recognised that an economical vibrant SME sector is vital for economic growth. There has been a lack of provision for companies in Wales who were looking for between £2 and £10 million pounds in capital, this has to change if we are to encourage sustainable economic growth and development.

It’s pretty clear that the present financial market and its institutions have failed to supply sufficient venture capital for the SME sector in Wales. We need a venture capital fund for Wales, which should be established by, but independent of the Welsh Government. Such an independent venture capital fund could raise capital and deliver investment through a co-investment model, with approved private sector partners to our SME sector, where such investment would make a real difference.

Despite nearly 15 years of devolution much of the same old mid to late twentieth century economic thinking lingers at the heart of the Welsh Government when it comes to economic development. There is still far too much focus on vastly expensive one egg, one basket schemes to generate the seemingly standard figure of 6,000 jobs which seems to haunt government press releases whether we are talking about the Severn Barrage, the Severnside airport , the M4 relief road or whatever.

We badly need new ideas not just talk, we need some concrete steps to encourage growth, boost manufacturing industry, support and develop  our small to medium sized enterprises. One positive step would be to end business rates and that's just to start with... otherwise it will just be a case of same old twaddle which will do nothing to help our communities and our economy.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


If you give someone enough rope then they will probably hang themselves, that old saying could well be applied to the latest escapade of one of the big six energy cartel members. They collectively continue to fleece their customers and to maximize their profits at every opportunity.  The latest scam, involves the energy firm E.On who have been has been hit with a £3 million pound penalty for failing to prove that it distributed free energy-saving light bulbs to its consumers. It gets better, it turns out that some of the free energy saving light bulbs were sold in the Irish Republic, while E.On was unable to prove that others were handed out to its customers.  

Now the free low energy saving light bulbs were supposed to be part of an energy efficiency scheme that had been ordered by regulator Ofgem back in 2010 as part of a carbon reduction programme. Some £2.5 million of E.On's penalty will end up being used to reduce the bills of vulnerable households next winter, as it will go into the pot of money that’s is regularly put aside for those of us who face fuel poverty and receive support from the Warm Home Discount. The remaining £500,000 will go to the Treasury as a fine.

The good news is that E.On has apologized and has claimed that it had distributed almost 25 million free energy saving light bulbs to customers back in 2010 to comply with a government programme to save energy, known as CERT. Sounds plausible, save for the fact that it was only able to account for around 21 million of the bulbs. Three thoughts cross my mind, one is why should any of the customers of the big six energy cartel members be remotely surprised that this happened, secondly a fine of £ 3 million pounds if nothing else shows how toothless the energy regulator actually is and thirdly, accepting that this is a relatively minor misdemeanor on the part of a cartel member, so what exactly do they have to do before the farce that passes itself of as the free market for energy is finally sorted out? 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) refused outline planning permission for 340 houses in Sudbrook (in South Monmouthshire) because of concerns about the scale of the development which would triple the size of the village. The proposed development put forward by Harrow Estates Plc (a part of the Redrow Group) which specialises in land acquisition) proposed the development of some 340 houses with new roads and infrastructure, public spaces and landscaping, etc.

After MCC throughout the planning application, Harrow Estates Plc naturally appealed, hence the ongoing (4 day) Planning inquiry. Sudbrook it should be noted has around 150 houses with the nearest secondary school and shopping area being some 3 kilometres away in Caldicot. Sudbrook, now without its paper mill (which closed in 2006) sits pretty much in the shadow of the Second Severn Crossing. The village has five buses a day and is about an hour’s walk away from the nearest railway station. 

The scale of the development managed to motivate Monmouthshire’s Planning Office to object because of the large number of houses in the proposed development. Now don’t get me wrong, there is room for well planned and integrated (and affordable) housing development along the increasingly crowded costal fringe of south Monmouthshire. I question just exactly who these proposed houses are for? and how they will be marketed?

No doubt (as has happened previously) all sorts of offers will be included with any purchase house (should the planning appeal be granted) including perhaps free bridge tools for a year, etc.  Just exactly what is in for local residents who happen not to work across the Severn Bridges for one thing?

Simply building houses in south Monmouthshire to cash in on the projected housing shortage in the Bristol area is not acceptable, it fails to solve the local housing shortage. I have no doubt that local residents will be effectively priced out of the market. As any proposed houses will be priced to maximise profits and effectively marketed and sold in Bristol (as has happened in the past).

What is clear is that we badly need a sensible properly planned housing strategy, not just for south Monmouthshire and the rest of Gwent, but for the rest of our country. Based on previous observations, I can pretty much predict what will happen next. If the planning inquiry come out against the proposed development then there will be another appeal to Cardiff – where I have little doubt that the proposal will be rubber stamped by the Government in Cardiff.

Our planning appeal system, appears to favour the developers at the expense of local people and local communities. The planning process in Wales is pretty much  designed to work as far as I can see in a non-devolved planning environment. There appears to be no joined up housing plan or strategy for Wales, other than to carry on rubber stamping and approving housing developments that bring little benefit to local people and local communities, certainly not affordable housing.

Local democracy on a county borough level has been undermined, as developers (and here we are not just talking about housing) simply appear to carry on appealing until they get their way or get their development retrospectively approved at a higher level. Local government officers will (and do) advise local councillors not to turn down developments (whatever the grounds) because the developers will simply appeal until the cows come home and that local government just does not have the finances to cope with this situation.

Westminster ministers are in favour of changing the planning rules (in England) to boost house-building to revive the economy. The Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff also favours changing to planning rules in Wales to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’. This decision may be aimed quite specifically at overturning those few occasions of late when our Local Authorities have rejected some developments (often at the behest of local residents) rather than putting economic needs ahead of economic and environmental benefits.

Fundamentally this is bad news for those residents of south Monmouthshire, and the residents of Torfaen, who have fought the plan and the good citizens of Abergavenny who fought to retain the livestock market. Not to mention the concerned residents of Carmarthen who have worries about the impact of over large housing developments or the residents of Holyhead who have opposed a planned new marina development.

The bottom line is that over the years our communities have been ill-served by the planning system, by our local authorities (and the system of Unitary Development Plans) and more recently by our own Government in Cardiff. I think that we need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment and looks sustainability at the whole of Wales. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


One idea that could catch on here is the community purchase of energy – individually we may get regularly fleeced by the energy companies, but, a collective purchase of energy may mean that we can cut a better deal with the energy suppliers. The idea of collective buying of energy has been tried for the first time in Cornwall where it has saved households on average £130 per year on their fuel bills.

The scheme, Cornwall Together, aims to help households across the county save an estimated £3.7 million through cheaper energy tariffs. If things go according to plan it is hoped more than 20,000 people across Cornwall may be able to reduce their energy bills by 10-15%. This may be first time an entire community county has united to buy energy more cheaply, enabling it to also tackle economic problems, encourage environmental sustainability and improve people’s health and well-being.

Basically Residents register their interest with the scheme to find a cheaper energy tariff, providing details of their current fuel bills. Then Cornwall Together will negotiate on behalf of all those that have registered to get best value tariffs. As well as identifying best value deals, wherever possible a green energy option will be offered. For each energy switch, 10% of the total money saved will be put back into a fuel poverty fund which will benefit the whole county. Cornwall Together will then seek match-funding from other organisations.

The scheme was conceived by the Eden Project, Cornwall Together was originally pioneered by Cornwall Council, the NHS, Community Energy Plus and Community Buying UnLtd. They have been joined by delivery partners energyshare – the community renewable energy platform – and, the independent price comparison and switching service. St Austell Brewery and Unison are also supporting the scheme, promoting it to their staff and also helping Cornwall Together reach vulnerable members of the community.

Collectively, Cornish households currently spend around £1.2 billion pounds on energy each year. According to the NHS approximately some 25% of these households in Cornwall are in fuel poverty. Across the UK the average household energy bill has risen by 140% a year since 2004 (from £ 522 to £ 1,254 pounds per year). Cornwall Together aims to secure cheaper energy bills for residents, helping to reduce fuel poverty in the county – and its associated health risks.

The idea of collective buying of energy may be catching on, as Consumer Futures (the new National Consumer Council) wants the Welsh government to promote collective switching to help fight fuelpoverty.  Merthyr Valleys Housing is currently talking to its tenants about starting a scheme. While community purchasing of energy is not a perfect solution to the problem of high energy costs it may well be an idea that is coming into its own and may provide a degree of protection from the worst excesses of the alleged free market for energy. 

Monday, 22 July 2013


House building (PA)
History apparently does not repeat itself, but, very occasionally simular events and simular circumstances can arise. Back in 1997, early the first term of the then pre Iraq Blair government, there was extensive lobbying form the building trade to weaken the pre-election pledge to make homes more energy and more thermally efficient. 

Ironically this is something that would have over the longer term have saved all of us money and potentially reduced our energy bills. This decision it is worth noting was taken during a period of relatively cheap energy. Following the successful lobby from the building trade the energy efficiency measures were quietly watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.

Now some 15 years later, by way of coincidence, the Labour in Wales Government (in Cardiff Bay) following another successful lobby campaign from the building industry has followed in Blair government’s footsteps. They have managed to achieve some drasticreductions in proposed new home energy efficiency targets - something that may marginally benefit the house builders but won’t benefit the rest of us. Basically the Labour in Wales government, planned to introduce building regulations which would have required 40% carbon emissions savings, this target has been reduced to 8%.

Housing Minister Carl Sargeant, under severe pressure from housing developers, who had warned the tougher regulations were making it uneconomic to build homes in much of Wales, has thrown in the towel. His decision benefits the House builders in the short term, but, future house owners will lose out as result of having less energy efficient houses in a time of ever expensive energy bills. This decision at the end of the day is about ring fencing in the short term the profits of the house builders at the longer term expense of the house buyers. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013


The longer the row goes on and on about the departure of the former Gwent Chief Constable the more convinced I am that this is mostly the Labour Party in Gwent having a pop at the PCC because he happens not to be their man. I am sure that if the Labour candidate had got elected and a simular train of events had taken place that we would not have heard a peep form Labour’s motley crew of backbench usual suspects who are occasionally, when not cluttering up the Westminster backbenches, found loitering here in Gwent. 

Friday, 19 July 2013


There is an old saying, he who pays the pier calls the tune? That said, it is worth remembering that it was the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff, not the Con Dems in Westminster, that chose to reduce investment its capital investment in railways from £37 million (2013) to £12 million (2014-15) – incidentally this £16 million pound saving would not even pay 10% of the provisional costs of the Heads of the Valleys road scheme let alone make a dent in the interest payments on any loans used to pay for the proposed M4 Relief Road.

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 was 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 (which no doubt continues to hold sway in some of the darker reaches of the civil service here in Wales) 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.

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 but 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.

Back in January (2013) the Welsh Government released figures that show that it intended 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. Now they are salivating at the prospect of additional financial powers even if part of the price may be a commitment to construct an excessively expensive M4 Relief road with dubious economic benefits and a significant price tag – I wonder whatever happened to value for money?

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Small may very well be beautiful in relation to energy in Germany (2012), 22% of the countries energy came from small scale green entrepreneurs.  Community co-operatives (both urban and rural), farmers and homeowners are part of the 1.3 million renewable energy producers. Small scale electricity generation is having a knock on effect; the energiewende is encouraging change throughout the energy system. In Berlin a community cooperative Is aiming to take control of the capital's electricity grid with some 35,000 km of underground cables. Co-operative members have taken on the established energy companies and are attempting to fight off the Chinese state grid which is trying to get a foothold in the German energy market. Around 1,300 Berliners have invested their cash in the venture. This is grass roots energy generation that has potentially the power (no pun intended) to change the nature of the energy supply system (in Germany and elsewhere). They aim to build an energy grid that is better handle the rise of green power and allows local use of locally produced energy. This development is a million kilometres away from the so called ‘Free market’ for energy that exists in the UK, which is pretty much dominated by the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel members. With the way the current monopoly is set up, it is difficult to imagine ‘Government’ at any level in the UK buying into the concept, let alone the practicalities and possibilities of genuine community owned and community beneficial energy generation projects even crossing the collective mind of Westminster and Whitehall. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Driver training on the Gaer spur (Ian Brewer)
I suspect that the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff is hoping that no one will notice, but, it appears to have all gone very quiet in relation to the restoration of the rail link into Newport from the Ebbw Vale line. The final stage of the link which would enable commuters to travel to work in Newport and Bristol without having to drive or catch the train to Cardiff Central would also enable services to be run between Abergavenny and Ebbw vale, potentially adding extra off peak services for passengers.

I have long questioned 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.

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 Town are a gain, but, why not build them with double platforms  - it will save us all time and money later. As I have said before if I was being generous I might suggest that it was a 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.’

Now in relation to the completion of the final stage of the Ebbw Vale to Newport line, I suspect that there is and has never been an real intention to complete it. The line as is works perfectly well for the proposed Cardiff City region – perhaps it’s time for the Labour in Wales Government to come clean and admit it? 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, deputy editor and political commentator for the independent Russian-language weekly "Novoye delo" and a regular contributor to the website Kavkaz-Uzel, was shot dead early on July 9 close to his home on the outskirts of Makhachkala. He was at least  the 13th journalist to be gunned down in Daghestan since 1992; none of the earlier killings, including that of Gadzhimurad Kamalov, editor of the weekly "Chernovik," in December 2011 has been solved.

Both law enforcement agencies and other media professionals assume that Akhmednabiyev was killed because of his professional activities. He wrote extensively about human rights violations, including abductions and torture by the police of suspected Islamic militants, but also about local Daghestani politics, such as the situation in the western Akhvakh district where he practiced as a doctor in his native village of Karata.

One of Akhmednabiyev’s last articles highlighted protests in Akhvakh in April-May that demanded the resignation of district administrator Ismail Magomedsharipov. Other recent articles discussed the detention by police in late April in Kizlyar of a wedding cortege that displayed Islamic banners, and a recent initiative to unite Daghestan's construction workers in an independent union. 

"Novoye delo" editor in chief Gadzhimurad Sagitov described Akhmednabiyev's writing as "honest and frank," noting at the same time that he never stooped to ad hominem attacks.

Akhmednabiyev was one of eight journalists named in a "death list"circulated in Makhachkala in late summer 2009 who had been earmarked for retribution for their imputed connivance in the killing of police and security personnel by members of the Islamic insurgency. The death list, which contained some 250 names, was drawn up by relatives of the slain police officers.

Akhmednabiyev had narrowly escaped death six months ago when unknown perpetrators opened fire on him from precisely the same spot where he was finally killed.  The prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the willful destruction of property and the illegal possession of firearms, but not into attempted murder.

After Akhmednabiyev's lawyer Abdurashid Sheykhov appealed that refusal in a local court, Daghestan’s  Supreme Court ruled in April that the prosecutor's office should open an attempted-murder investigation, but it failed to do so for reasons that remain unclear.

Daghestani Prosecutor-General Andrei Nazarov has since been transferred to Bashkortostan. Similarly unclear is why law enforcement agencies failed to try and trace the sender of threatening SMS messages Akhmednabiyev had received in recent months.

In light of the focus of Akhmednabiyev’s reporting, and the inclusion of his name on the 2009 death list, suspicion inevitably falls on law enforcement agencies. Acting Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov  was quoted as attributing the murder to "those for whom neither moral nor human norms exist," presumably meaning the North Caucasus insurgency, even though its members had no obvious reason to target Akhmednabiyev.

A further possibility is that Akhmednabiyev was killed by one or another political interest groups out to undermine and discredit Abdulatipov in the run-up to the election by the republic’s parliament of a successor to Magomedsalam Magomedov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as republic of Daghestan president in late January.

Several of the 170+ journalists who bore Akhmednabiyev’s body in procession through Makhachkala on the day he died carried placards with the rhetorical question "Who will be next?" 

Kavkaz-Uzel has offered a reward of 200,000 rubles ($6,077) for information on the identity of Akhmednabiyev’s killers.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Even the news that the Post Office profit rose from £ 152 million pounds to £ 403 million pounds (in the 12 months up until the end of March) made little difference; the Lib Dems (notorious locally for campaign to keep open local Post Offices that were not under threat of closure) have with their Conservative collation partners decided to privatise the Post Office. Labour in Westminster has been busy crying crocodile tears, as they tried and failed (under Peter Mandelson) to privatise the Post Office themselves during their largely wasted 13 years in government.

Privatisation of the Post Office - simply a bad idea...
Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with the Post Office being given the maximum amount of commercial freedom to go out and diversify and to make money (as happens in the Netherlands) but firmly believe that this is an ideologically driven and unnecessary privatisation  A major concern should be about the longevity of the unprofitable rural postal operations – how long will it be before they are dropped because they don’t make enough profit?

The Post Office, rather than be simply sold off to a private company will be floated on the stock market, with shares being sold off. The business has been valued at something between £ 2 billion and £ 3 billion pounds with up to 10% of shares being set aside for postal workers. Not surprisingly, probably along with most people, the members of the Communication Workers Union are understandably firmly opposed to the privatisation of the Post Office.

Plaid Cymru spokesperson on Royal Mail, Jonathan Edwards MP, said:

Plaid Cymru is wholly opposed to the privatisation of Royal Mail. 

"When the last Labour Government thought that part-privatisation was a good idea, Plaid Cymru fought to defend Royal Mail in the House of Commons, and will do so again against this Tory – Lib Dem decision.

Plaid Cymru is very concerned about the Government’s decision to press ahead with privatisation of the postal service that threatens to put jobs and services at risk.

The reasons for keeping Royal Mail in public ownership are numerous, and the Government has not been able to give sufficient reasons for privatising it.

“In May this year, it was announced that Royal Mail had posted a profit of over £400 million in the preceding year and lays to waste the Coalition Government’s claim that it must be sold off to survive.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


The old man (who had been in some pain and discomfort) finally got a bed at ten past five (in the morning), after ten and a half hours wait in the assessment unit, the doctors came around at half five, but decided to let him sleep a bit more, after talking to his wife. The previous evening assessment unit was full at six pm and stayed full until well after eleven pm with some patients temporally bedding down for the night until beds became free. In the dry heat dehydration looked like it was taking a steady toll of the old and not so old. The search for beds (in the large hospital) was pretty much constant with the phones quietly being manned in the background as staff worked hard to match patients with beds. The staff in the assessment unit; were superb, but they all looked tired and run ragged by the heat (along with everyone else). They barely paused quietly moving from one patient to the next, checking on medications, liaising with tired (but young) doctors, who had been on their feet for hours and checking the patients and reassuring relatives. Previously the ambulance arrived just outside its two hour window, the ambulance staff had also looked tired but were incredibly professional and gentle working expertly to move the old man out of the house and into the ambulance, constantly reassuring him and his family. Before that the Doctor once called had been swift and had set the wheels in motion, so that the patient note was ready for collection from the surgery to be taken with the patient to the hospital. Whatever the faults with the NHS and there are more than a few, it’s not the staff, the spirit (of the NHS) may appear weak but the flesh is more than willing. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013


There are times when government shout quite literally mind its own business and leave things well alone. A good example of when government should leave well alone is that of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. A Bangladeshi Government commission has come up with a plan that recommends splitting-up the Grameen Bank into 19 segments, which has understandably raised fears that the government is attempting to strengthen control over an institution which has helped more than eight million impoverished people in the country.

At the moment the government owns three per cent of the bank based on equity, while the rest of the shares are held by the bank’s members, who are mostly women. Amongst the recommendations contained within the eight-page working paper -  “The future of Grameen Bank: Some Options” – is a recommendations to restructure the bank, and the awarding 51 per cent or more shares in the bank to the government, along with a majority seats on the board of directors.

Back in August 2012, the government of Bangladesh changed a 29-year-old law which governed the Grameen Bank, to give more power to the government-appointed chairman to choose the bank’s chief executive. This development came after the government removed the bank’s founder, Muhammad Yunus, in 2011, from his post as managing director of the bank (in 2011). The government suggested that his was because he had passed retirement age.  

If implemented, any of these recommendations would destroy the independence of the Grameen Bank and undermine the women borrowers and shareholders who have made the Bank what it is today. Currently the Grameen Bank serves over 8.4 million borrowers. Its shareholders, the majority of whom are poor women, are proud of its success and committed to its core mission. They understand the plight of poor and rural women because many of them have faced the same challenges. This is one of those occasions when government should leave well alone.