Friday, 30 August 2013


The war of the words, despite last evenings vote against military action without parliamentary approval, continues, while the war on the ground in Syria (and body count grows ever higher). Clearly the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan weighed heavily on MP’s minds in Westminster yesterday. Whatever the merits of the intervention or not with regard to the conflict in Syria are, we are all somewhere different to where we were in 2003. The fact that Blair favoured intervention swung some of my relatives to a position of opposition to intervention. Armed intervention in Syria with or without UN approval (which is unlikely with the Russian and Chinese veto) would be a risky business.

The Syrian situation is far more complicated than was the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan – in theory Saddam could have fled to exile, but, Assad has nowhere to go and neither does his constituency of support amongst the sizeable (and well armed) Alawite minority.  Last evenings vote of Westminster MP's against military intervention in Syria may send sizeable shock waves through the Obama administration. Whereas previously the Brits have tended to march in step with the US, this rejection of President Barack Obama's argument may well upset the special relationship for some time to come.

It can be argued this key event has been a long time coming, and save for Harold Wilson’s refusal to commit UK ground troops to Vietnam in the 1960’s (which was duly punished) it has largely been avoided (at least since Suez). Certainly before last night’s vote, the US administration appeared relatively relaxed about David Cameron's problems and any delays in the Brits joining the new collation. Now in the cold light of day things may be different, it may to too early to say whether or not the Brits have finally cast of their adoptive mantle of Uncle Sam’s poodle.

The trigger for any intervention has been the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian regime, the latest of possible 14 instances of chemical weapons use,  may yet trigger a US-led military response. The UN route may be blocked with Russia and China very publically opposed to any military action, which means that the UN Security Council will be unable to give its backing to any intervention which may raise some questions about the legal basis for military intervention.

Any desire for intervention may relate more to Syria (and the strategic situation in the Middle East) than it does to the use of chemical weapons as such. They have been used before (on some scale) by Saddam Hussein, against the Iranians (during the Iran – Iraq war) and later against the Kurds. On both occasion the Western Allies (and the USA) said next to nothing as Saddam was their boy - he was only to become a problem later when he invaded Kuwait (triggering the first gulf war back in 1991).

Last evenings cross-party amendment on Syria called for legal evidence and UN inspectors reports to be presented before any decision is taken on military action are taken, something that most reasonable people would probably agree with as a reasonable and rational response to the crisis. Judging by the look on David Cameron’s face last night as the debate concluded in a government defeat there may be trouble ahead and the one sided ‘special relationship’ may be on hold for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps finally the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq may have sunk in and days of the UK  strutting the stage and over extending itself by pretending to be a global player are over - it may be too early to say. That said, something needs to be done to bring an end to the increasingly bloody conflict in Syria – doing that will require UN approval (which is unlikely) and a plan (which may well be nonexistent if recent experiences in Iraq are anything to go by).  

So as the war of words continues in the West, the war on the ground will continue in the Middle East, the refugee crisis will get worse and the body count will grow ever higher. There was as far as I could perceive last evening only as slight if faint whiff of Munich wafting through some of the MP's in the House of Commons last evening - perhaps prompted by some of the friends of Syria (Assad); that said  the vote should not be an excuse of inaction or indifference to the plight of the people of Syria, as something still needs to be done. 

Friday, 23 August 2013


For most of us (on these islands) the significance of Wednesday August 14th probably passed largely unnoticed – this was the day that food supplies (for the year) would have run out today if the UK was reliant solely on domestic production. The National Farmers’ Union have suggested (and they should know) that falling self-sufficiency means that we produce less than two-thirds (62%) of the food the country consumes, this figure is down from 75% in 1991.

And then the cupboard was bare...
What this means is that if all the food produced in the UK in a year were stored and eaten from January 1st then our cupboard would be bare by August 14th. Farmers in Wales (and England) are right to call for support from politicians, the public and food industry to back farming and help them produce more food. We currently import around £ 37.6 billion pounds worth of food and drink often at the expense of home grown foodstuffs.

In times of political and economic uncertainty it is essential that we have a vibrant domestic food-producing industry. With world food prices remaining high and the demand for food supplies from India, China and Brazil continuing to grow it’s not sustainable or sensible to carry on relaying in imported foodstuffs. The transportation system we rely on to deliver our food supplies is over complex, increasingly last minute and reliant on vulnerable long distance distribution systems, which are dependent on increasingly expensive oil based fuels. 

The problems of the recent past have been the result of long, overly complex supply chains, something which farmers warned about and which led to the horsemeat scandal. Here in Wales we have a rich natural capacity to produce more quality foodstuffs, which with investment and local purchasing could give both our farmers and their customers real opportunities.

We need to an environment where farmers can benefit from invest and new opportunities to sell their produce, at the same time we can strengthen the food chain bringing much needed food security. Our farmers already regularly produce award winning quality foodstuffs, the next step should to develop our domestic markets for their produce, with more local public procurement.

Buying local is the next significant step, this will reduce food miles and give consumers access to quality Welsh beef or lamb and other produce. Our farming sector needs to be strong and confident, something that will give us both food security and access to quality local produce.  If we do this right then we can ensure that more of money remains in local economies longer, benefiting local firms and local food suppliers and the rest of us. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013


I had just finished a session in the gym last evening, when I caught the headlines last night about the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The changing room fell silent as people took in the news and the grim footage. The Kurdish man standing next to me watching the TV broke the silence saying that he had survived Saddam’s chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja (16th March 1988) but had lost his father and other close relatives.  For those who have forgotten back on the 16th  March 1988, Iraq dropped bombs containing mustard gas, Sarin and Tabun on the Kurdish city of Halabja.  UN experts estimated that the number of civilians killed range from 3,200 to 5,000, with many survivors suffering long-term health problems.

Now this was not the first time that Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds, they were also used during Iraq's ‘Anfal’ offensive. This seven-month scorched-earth campaign in which an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Kurdish villagers were killed or disappeared, and hundreds of villages were razed to the ground. The UN had confirmed in 1986 that Iraq had contravened the Geneva Convention by using chemical weapons against Iran. Iraq also used the blister agent mustard gas from 1983 and the nerve gas Tabun from 1985, in the face of human waves attacks from Iranian troops and poorly-trained Iranian volunteers. A UN Security Council statement condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the war in 1986. The US, UK and other western governments still looked upon Saddam as ‘their own boy’ so continued supporting Baghdad politically and militarily until the closing stages of the Iran – Iraq war. 

Now chemical weapons are being used in the Middle East again, this time in Syria. UN officials have said that the alleged chemical weapons attacks which Syria's opposition says killed hundreds near Damascus was a "serious escalation". Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, made those comments after briefing an emergency UN Security Council meeting about Wednesday's incident. The Security Council also said that clarity was needed over the attacks. Some 35 UN member states (including the US, UK and France) have called for the UN chemical weapons inspectors that are already probing three sites of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria to be dispatched immediately to the scene to investigate. UN inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three locations including the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where some 26 people were killed in March. 

Syrian opposition activists have said that more than 1,000 people have been killed after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents into the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region early on Wednesday. The Syrian government has denied the allegations, describing them as "illogical and fabricated" and the Syrian army says the opposition made up the claims to divert attention from the huge losses its forces had suffered recently. The areas said to have been affected included Irbin, Duma and Muadhamiya. Syrian opposition footage shows dozens of bodies with no visible signs of injuries, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic. Videos also show people being treated in makeshift hospitals, with victims, including many children, having convulsions.

President Obama’s administration has expressed its "deep concern" over the alleged chemical weapons attacks on Wednesday and formally requested the UN to "urgently investigate" the incident. The alleged attack comes a year after US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line". UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that if confirmed, the attacks would mark a "shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria". The Russian foreign ministry noted that the reports had emerged just as the UN chemical weapons inspection team had arrived in Syria, saying that "this makes us think that weare once again dealing with a premeditated provocation". The official Syrian Sana news agency said reports of the latest attack were "baseless", describing them as "an attempt to divert the UN chemical weapons investigation commission away from carrying out its duties". China and Russia (along with their fair weather friends India, South Africa and Brazil) have repeatedly backed the Syrian government since the crisis began have blocked a stronger Security Council press statement which supported by the 35 states. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Prague 1968
It has been 45 years since Soviet troops and most of their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakiaon August 21st 1968, bringing a halt to the political liberalization process known as the Prague Spring. The carefully orchestrated invasion was designed to crush the period of political and economic reforms known as the Prague Spring, reforms led by the country's new First Secretary of the Communist party Alexander Dubcek. 

The reform movement was viewed by Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet hard-liners in Moscow as a serious threat to the Soviet Union's hold on the Socialist satellite states, they decided to act. In the first hours on the 21st August 1968 Soviet planes began to land unexpectedly at Prague's Ruzyne airport, and shortly Soviet tanks would roll through Prague's narrow streets. Within hours foreign troops would take up strategic positions throughout the city, including surrounding the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, taking hold of Wenceslas Square, and eventually taking over Czechoslovak radio and television. Around 500,000 troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in an operation code-named "Danube." 

Some 500 Czechoslovaks were wounded and 108 killed in the invasion, which successfully ended political and economic reforms under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek and gave the Communist Party greater authority. The Soviet-led invasion helped establish the Brezhnev Doctrine, which Moscow said allowed the U.S.S.R. to intervene in any country where a Communist government was under threat. The Soviet backed occupation of Czechoslovakia would last until the velvet revolution brought an end to the Communist dictatorship in November 1991 as the Cold War ended.

Monday, 19 August 2013


When I was a child I always hoped for long warm summers so I could enjoy them. Now that I am older and paying my own energy bills, I still hope for mild winters and warm long summers. Not I hasten to add so that I can enjoy them, but, because I like most the people are getting fiscally violated by the ‘big 6’ energy cartel members and I need to keep my energy bills down.

So news that households in England and Wales cut their energy use by a quarter over a six year period, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) should come as now surprise. The ONS report that average consumption of gas and electricity fell by 24.7% between 2005 and 2011 – this should be good for us the energy customers and good for the planet (less green house gases) - save for the fact that we (the energy customers) have faced steep increases in our bills over the period, and are perhaps trying to economise as a result.

Personally if I can make it to October before I put the heating on, or later, then that from my point of view is a bonus.  Ofgem (the energy regulator) says that energy bills have risen by 28% in the last three years. Some of the saving are down to increasing use of energy efficiency measures, with insulation, double-glazing and new boilers – ironically this is something that Plaid first advocated some thirty years ago – long before we started getting fleeced by the energy companies.

The ONS also said that another reason for the fall in consumption might be down to the introduction of energy ratings for properties and household appliances, something which may allow customers to make informed choices. Ofgem also noted the price rises, pointing out that the average duel fuel bill is now £1,420 a year.

ONS figures also showed that energy consumption is highest in England in the East Midlands, and lowest in the south-west of England, which has the mildest climate in the UK. The Department for Energy and Climate Change figures showed that Scotland still has the highest energy consumption of any part of the UK. They also noted that gas consumption in Scotland fell by 14% between 2005 and 2010, as shown by figures from March 2012.

One thing that could help is the smart meter, which show people exactly how much energy that they are using at any particular moment in time. While both the concept and the real thing have been around for a while, when it comes to installing them, the big six members appear to be dragging their feet. It is hoped that they will be installed in 53 million homes by 2020.

Household energy bills have become a major drain on finances, with people literally choosing between heating or eating. Fuel poverty is now alive and well here in the UK. Successive Westminster governments, both formerly New Labour and Con Dem have done little to curb the excessive profits raked in by the ‘big 6’ energy cartel members but have been happy to rake in extra taxes on profits.  

Friday, 16 August 2013


Scotland and NATO
News that a meeting was held last month between Scottish government officials and NATO to discuss membership of the alliance in the event of independence, probably didn’t go down to well in with Westminster and the unionists. The talks were held at NATO's headquarters in Brussels. Senior Scottish government officials met with Dirk Brengalmann, the then NATO assistant secretary general for political affairs and security policy.

The meeting was held in early July and was facilitated by the UK's delegation to NATO, who also attended. NATO described the meeting as "informal and informational in nature". Scottish officials took the opportunity to argue that since Scotland was already within the alliance as part of the UK, it should not have to start from scratch in securing membership in the event of a Yes vote in next year's referendum. The SNP Scottish government, is committed to NATO membershipafter independence but has pledged to make nuclear weapons illegal in an independent Scotland.

Now, none of this should surprise anyone very much, as any potentially soon to be independent European state will probably end up talking constructively to NATO. European collective security has, by an large (with the exception of the Bosnian catastrophe) worked and we have managed to avoid any wide scale protracted continental land wars. NATO membership is a good and practical step for any European nation seeking its independence. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013


The sensible choice would be for the Welsh Government to follow Scottish example of freezing off-peak prices, as RPI inflation figures (3.1% in the year to July) threaten another 4.1% increase from January 2014 across Wales. It is worth noting that Trade union leaders and transport experts have called on the Government to follow Scotland’s lead and freeze or limit rises in train fares for passengers.  The Welsh Government’s default position is that fares should only rise by 1% above the July inflation figure. The problem is that while the Labour in Wales administration could choose to freeze or limit the fares increase (this deal has been made every year since 2001 for the Wales and the Borders franchise) this is not set in stone.

A choice: Not for profit or Profit before people?
The Western Mail’s sources revealed yesterday that although Scotland is freezing the cost of off-peak journeys. There is a distinct possibility that hard-pressed Welsh commuters may well end up having to face another 4.1% increase in January 2014, this would be on top of the 4% rise at the start of this year (2013).  In Scotland, the cost peak-rail travel will rise with inflation at 3.1% and the freeze in off-peak travel will cover about 40% of rail journeys. A 4.1% increase in rail fares would increase the cost of an annual commuter route season ticket between Pontypridd and Cardiff from £880 to £916 and between Aberdare and Cardiff from £1,040 to around £1,082.

The current franchise was awarded to Arriva Trains Wales in 2003 and runs for 15 years, and is due to end in 2018. There have been many persistent calls for the rail franchise to be run as a not-for-profit operation – with profits being feed back into the system, rather than vanishing to pay shareholders dividends. The Welsh Government has been considering this option for when the deal ends. Arriva Trains Wales is the only train firm covered by the Welsh Government’s transport remit. Any longer-distance services e.g. Swansea or Cardiff to Paddington, are currently operated by First Great Western, who have their fares regulated by the UK Government Department for Transport. They have stated that rail fares on the routes it controls would increase by an average of 4.1% from January 2013.

To make matters worse the announced rise in rail fares will come take place against a backdrop of squeezed incomes, with average earnings increasing by just 1% and many experiencing pay freezes. There have been calls for the ending the annual inflation-plus fares rise, with them being replaced by a new formula, RPI minus 1% from 2015.  The rail fare rises which will arrive in January’s rise will be the sixth time in seven years that rail fares have outstripped wages. It has been calculated that between 2008 and next January rail fares will have risen some 40%, compared with a 15% increase in average earnings.

It should also be noted that the cost of some season tickets may rise by 9% as some routes are not subject to regulation under franchise agreements. All these rail fare increases will take place against projections of a 2.4% increase in average earnings next year. The TUC has suggested that since the railways were privatised, they have cost taxpayers about £1.2 billion pounds a year and this with what has been described as “minimal” investment in trains and stations.  

The Department for Transport continues to insist that the UK Westminster Government is investing record amounts in the railways to help deliver economic growth and boost passenger capacity. Additionally the Association of Train Operating Companies has also insisted that only a small proportion of income goes on profits, with most going on staff costs and investment. They also say that railway companies only make modest profits with 3p from every pound earned going towards profit, 17p goes towards staff costs, and 48p goes towards maintaining and improving infrastructure (including track and signalling).

At the end of the day, this is good news for rail operators and shareholders but bad news for hard-pressed long suffering rail commuters who are having to hand over even more of their pay packets for poor-quality services. We are where we are because regulated fares, including peak-time journeys, have been set at RPI inflation plus 1% since 2004 because successive Governments (both Labour and Con Dem) have been trying to shift the burden of paying for the railways from taxpayers to rail passengers.

It is Somewhat ironic that the persistent attempts of successive Westminster governments to wash their collective hands of their responsibilities for rail transport infrastructure come at a time when annual passenger journey numbers have increased from 750 million to 1.5 billion. The day that the rail franchise in our country is run on a not for profit basis, with profits being reinvested into the business, cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


It may come down to a desperate search for votes perhaps motivated by a growing fear that Labour may blow its chance of returning to office at the next Westminster general election, that and the knowledge that their leader has effectively vanished without trace.  Whatever the reasons the Labour's immigration spokesman’s latest blunder won’t do much to help create the impression that Labour is standing up for ‘the Workers’. 

In a speech, Chris Bryant said Tesco had planned to provide "reassurance", while Next was cited for using a recruitment site "entirely in Polish". The planned speech contained strong criticisms of two of the UK's biggest retailers over claims that they favoured Eastern European workers over Britons. Yet Citizen Bryant rapidly removed other critical excerpts which referred to both companies, unfortunately in true New Labour style the speech had been widely reported the press over the weekend.

Apparently Tesco and Next apparently ‘raised concerns’ (that’s spin for kicking off big time) about the criticisms. In extracts from the speech published in the advance in Sunday Telegraph, Mr Bryant claimed Tesco had moved a distribution centre to Kent where "a large percentage" of staff were "from Eastern bloc" countries. Staff at an original site, "most of them British, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay", he was reportedly due to say. After complaints from the company, these passages were rapidly removed.

Standing up for Welsh jobs - perhaps not?
Now when it comes to standing up for indigenous workers jobs, Labour is not only late to arrive but also has a pretty poor record from its time in Government at Westminster. In Monmouth constituency, in Chepstow, when Tesco threw its weight around with an ultimatum to its workers at the Tesco Distribution Centre at Newhouse Farm Industrial Estate in Chepstow – Labour (at pretty much all levels) were on the whole conspicuous by their absence (and they were in government then).

Staff at the Tesco Distribution Centre in Chepstow faced a stark choice redundancy or an eight year pay freezes as part of the transfer deal to a new distribution centre at Piling near Bristol (Severn Bridge tolls were to be paid for two years up until 2011). The former workers at Tesco would have been in a much better position to defend their jobs had former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown signed the European Social Chapter, then the workers would have had better protection, sadly the party then known as New Labour choose not to. 

Labour’s silence over the demise of the Tesco distribution centre at Chepstow, and so many other things was odd? I mean they were the party that was supposed to stand up for workers rights. At the end of the day Tesco upped sticks from Chepstow and relocated to Piling near Bristol and union representatives had noted that new contracts for the Pilning site offered less pay and fewer benefits. 

Any Welsh Government or WDA funding that Tesco may have received to help expand and develop its former distribution centre at Chepstow over the years should have been reclaimed. Yet, by strange coincidence Tesco was listed by the Electoral Commission as a small but regular donator of cash / funds to the Labour Party, between 11th March 2003 and 30th October 2008, Tesco donated £73,664 pounds in cash to the Labour Party. In the same period the Liberal Democrats got around £28,000 from Tesco. 

Monday, 12 August 2013


The regional transport consortium Sewta, the South East Wales Transport Alliance, has launched a consultation on how it thinks services should be improved in the region up to 2030. New services are proposed for the Ebbw Valley line and new stations in south Gwent at Caerleon, St Mellons, Coedkernew and Llanwern, along with additional rail services across the south east. Proposals for the Ebbw Vale line include  extensions from Ebbw Vale Parkway to Ebbw Vale Town, from Llanhilleth to Abertillery and from the Ebbw Vale line to Newport as well as new stations at Crumlin and Pye Corner in Newport.

Under the SEWTA proposals additional services would also call at Severn Tunnel Junction along with new services being proposed on the Abergavenny and Chepstow line, and services between Caerphilly, Machen and Newport. A suggestion has also been made to electrify the Abergavenny to Shrewsbury and Chepstow to Gloucester lines. The plans also include the extension of the railway to Ebbw Vale Town and plans to build a new station at Pye Corner which has already have Welsh Government backing.

The capital costs are estimated for the schemes within the programme average £19.5m per annum. Revenue costs would increase over the initial ten years of the strategy to between £13m and £15m per year. Thereafter, increasing revenues would offset additional costs. The majority of that benefit occurs in 2020, when electrification will reduce operating costs. Sewta is a consortium made up of local authorities in the south east including all five Gwent councils, so the projects would need funding from other sources and evidence of support is being sought for the concept of a South East Wales Metro.

The closing date for comments is September 30th 2013

For more information visit 

Sunday, 11 August 2013


When it comes to tax, most of us pay it and most of us probably pay our fair share, and even a proportion of corporations (multi-national or otherwise) end up paying some degree of tax - despite the best efforts of creative accountants. The question of what exactly is a corporation and how much tax it should pay came before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (last month) in relation to the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Duchy of Cornwall, the Committee heard, provides the heir to the throne was a private income,  was not a corporation and that the prince voluntarily pays income tax. The Duchy of Cornwall, despite the name, happens to have significant landholdings well to the east of the Tamar which included the Oval Cricket Ground in London and a third of Dartmoor, not to mention pretty extensive property in Cornwall itself.  It is worth noting that the "title and honour" confers legal prerogatives in Cornwall which elsewhere belong to the Crown including for example the right to the property of people who die without heirs and ownership of the foreshore. Interestingly the duchy estate is worth some £762 million pounds.

A Royal aide revealed that the prince's estate does not pay capital gains tax because he "doesn't have access to the capital gains. The capital gains are all reinvested in the duchy for future dukes". MPs were that the profits were used to pay for the prince's public duties, as well as those of his wife the Duchess of Cornwall and those of Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and that if parliament legislated to prevent Prince Charles using his private income in this way it would cost taxpayers more - to pay for his official duties - and he would be free to spend his money "on his other things".

A senior Treasury official told the committee, that the prince's tax arrangements worked this way because he does not pay capital gains tax because he always reinvests any profit from sales, and that "If the duke were to be taxed on the corporate income of the duchy as well as his income, he would be taxed twice."  The Treasury official also stated that the duchy differed to other corporations because the prince "is in the unusual position of getting all the income." The duchy estate of land and property - mostly in the south-west of England - was established by King Edward III in the fourteenth century to provide a private income for his son and heir to the throne.

The last time Prince Charles's representatives came before the Public Accounts Committee they were accused of performing financial "jiggery pokery" and he was said to be the recipient of the "best housing benefit scheme in the world".  The committee was fresh from finding the tax affairs of Google, Starbucks and Amazon wanting. Earlier this month, the prince faced calls from Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for West Cornwall, to "come clean" about the Duchy of Cornwall's tax arrangements. Clarence House has said public funding for the Prince of Wales fell by £1 million to £1.2 million pounds in the last financial year, out of a total income of £20.2 million.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


As the summer progresses the Welsh Affairs Committee is quietly holding a series of short inquiries on our countries energy issues – the first energy issues that they are looking is focusing on shale gas. Shale gas is natural gas (mostly methane) found in shale rocks.

Natural gas produced from shale is often referred to as unconventional because of the methods used to extract it from rock beds. Advances in technology, notably hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ over the last decade have made shale gas development economically viable. Shale gas is making a significant contribution to US gas production — having risen from around 2% of US production in 2000, to 14% in 2009, and it is forecast to continue rising to more than 30% by 2020.

There are serious concerns over the environmental impact both of the gas itself and the methods used to extract it. Unconventional gas development in the UK is at an early stage. Planning permission has been given at a number of sites in Wales for exploratory drilling for shale gas. 

Further planning permission would be required for a full-scale extraction process. Concerns have been raised from environmental groups about the local environmental impact of shale gas extraction, including the risk of earthquakes and the contamination of groundwater.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has invited written submissions and requests observations on the following issues:
  • the importance of gas to the UK’s overall energy needs and the potential role shale gas could play within it
  • The potential for shale gas exploration and commercial level extraction in Wales
  • The potential environmental and climate change impact of extraction and use of the gas
  • Whether the current regulatory regime covering such activity is adequate; and
  • The potential economic impact of shale gas production in Wales
  • The role of the Wales Office and the Welsh Government in developing a policy framework for the exploration of shale gas

The Committee asks for written submissions on this issue in accordance with set guidelines, and the deadline for written submissions is noon on Wednesday 14th August 2013.

Submissions for this inquiry should therefore be sent via the Welsh Affairs Committee website.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


The sooner the powers over the water industry and water resources are devolved to the Senedd the better. The bottom line being that the Welsh people should be able to profit from the sale and development of our natural resources. The ‘not-for-profit’ social enterprise model instituted in Wales by Glas Cymru shows that for once our country is ahead of the curve when it comes to managing its water resources. 

Water is a valuable asset in Wales and while many of the regulatory powers relating to Water in our country are in the hands of the Welsh Government, the water clauses in the Government of Wales Act 2006 (thanks for that Mr Hain!) actually prevent us from taking financial advantage of our natural resources to our benefit.

The Con Dem’s Water Bill is decidedly ideologically driven and aims to introduce more market competition into the water industry. Whatever the Con Dem’s do in England for once should have little effect in Wales, as for most of us our largest water supplier Glas Cymru, which is a not-for-profit company – something that could be used as a successful social enterprise and a business model elsewhere.

One thing that we don’t need to do (and we probably won’t despite the party formerly known as New Labour’s ideological commitment to the nominal ‘free market’) is turn the clock back in Wales by moving from a not-for-profit system which puts customers first to one sees boosting the shareholders’ dividends and profits  as the prime motivation. Meanwhile the draft Water Bill slowly grinds its way through the House of Commons will continue to makes progress and no doubt the outcomes of private discussions between the Welsh and UK Governments will no doubt eventually emerge.

The Senedd, in so far as the clauses in the Draft Bill (now at the Second Reading Stage in Westminster) affect Wales is at least partially involved in the process. The National Assembly for Wales’ Environment and Sustainability Committee is currently engaged in an inquiry into water policy in Wales. Amongst other things the committee is remitted to ‘Assess the implications of the Draft Water Bill for Wales, particularly with regard to competition in the non-household market.’

We need to ensure full transparency with detailed debates in the Senedd about what exactly the Welsh Government’s plans for the water industry. Water in our country has always been sensitive issue and Plaid has been consistently calling for the devolution of powers over water resources so that our country can tap the potential of our natural resources. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


Having failed to get elected as the Labour candidate for North Wales Police Commissioner and as Labour candidate for the Ynys Mons By-election (where the Labour vote crumbled away) where next for Labour in Wales’s so far unelected representative Tal Michael? Perhaps the Newport West Westminster Seat, currently being kept warm by its current incumbent (Citizen Flynn) may well just suffice? Just a thought but perhaps long held public principles may crumble (just like the Labour in Wales vote on Ynys Mon) with the offering of a cosy seat (as Lord Llanwern perhaps?) in that last bastion of privilege that unelected quango also known as the House of Lords? 

Monday, 5 August 2013


A member of the Big 6
If you are searching for material to build the character of a pantomime villain then perhaps you need look no further than the members of the big six energy cartel, who are busy squeezing every ounce of profit out of their customers (most of us) when not flogging off free low energy light bulbs, etc. With that in mind the news that Centrica, who own British Gas owner reported a rise in half-yearly profits, following the unusually cold winter boosted gas consumption should come as no surprise. Centrica's adjusted operating profit increased by 9% to £ 1.58 billion pounds in the six months up to the 30th June, rising from £ 1.45 billion pounds for the same period in 2012.

Amidst the statistical wizardry and smoke and mirrors that passes for energy profit related statistics, the  residential arm (of British Gas) saw its profits rise 3% to £ 356 million pounds, up from £ 345 million pounds one year ago. Like all the other cartel members last November (2012) British Gas upped its energy prices by 6% - basically because - in their largely unregulated farce that passes itself off as the ‘free energy market’ – they could. The news of Centrica's results came a day after EDF (the French energy company) announced that its UK pre-tax profits were some of £ 903 million pounds.

Interestingly enough, just before the profits were announced, House of Commons, Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) realised a report which said that Ofgem (the Energy regulator) is not doing enough to make sure that energy company profits are transparent. MPs stated that the watchdog was "failing consumers by not taking all possible steps to improve openness". The committee also noted that "working out exactly how their profits are made requires forensic accountants".

Energy Profits before People?
The ECCC believes that Ofgem should force energy companies to standardise their bills to make it easier for consumers to compare the value for money of different energy providers. They also believe that it should be possible to break down the total cost of the bill into its components, i.e. wholesale energy prices, supply costs, the cost of implementing government energy policies, operating costs, and profit. And that consumers should be given details of price changes in pounds and pence, and not just in percentages

At the same time EDF stated that it was pulling out of the US nuclear power market because of the widespread availability of shale gas. This later announcement should come as no surprise, as at the end of the day it comes down to chasing easy money (and making excessive profits) when faced with a complicated and pretty much free energy market (one literally awash with resources) the cartel members will tend to back off seeking permanent subsidies (easy money) which make farcical any suggestion that the UK energy market is neither free or open for completion.   

Friday, 2 August 2013


Rhun ap Iorwerth AM / AC for Yns Mon
All in all it was good night, with Plaid Cymru celebrating a magnificent win in the by-election to choose a new assembly member for Ynys Mon. Rhun ap Iorwerth, held the Ynys Mon seat for Plaid, securing a 9,166 majority over Labour, UKIP came in a close third place (to Labour). 

Interestingly enough the Conservatives' vote collapsed (by 20% ) with the Lib Dems coming in last behind Socialist Labour. In the south east Plaid in Penyrheol in Caerphilly were also celebrating won two by-elections.

The Ynys Mon By-Election Result

Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid) 12,601 (58.24%, +16.82%)
Tal Michael (Lab) 3,435 (15.88%, -10.33%)
Nathan Gill (UKIP) 3,099 (14.32%)
Neil Fairlamb (Cons) 1,843 (8.52%, -20.70%)
Kathrine Jones (Soc Lab) 348(1.61%)
Steve Churchman (Lib Dem) 309 (1.43%, -1.73%)
Plaid maj 9,166 (42.37%)
13.58% swing Lab to Plaid
Electorate 51,024; turnout 21,635 (42.40%, -6.29%)

Penyrheol County Council By-election Result (Caerphilly County Council) 

Steve Skivens (Plaid Cymru) 929
Gareth Pratt (Labour) 554
Jamie Davies (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) 173
Cameron Muir-Jones (Conservative) 135

(Stats with thanks to National Left)

Plaid Michelle Britton was elected as Plaid Cymru community councillor for Penyrheol.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


When it comes to spending public money it makes perfect sense to work it extra hard, to extract as much value for money from it as possible. One way we can (at all levels) work public money extra hard is by raising the levels of local public procurement, to give Welsh companies and Welsh workers more opportunities to benefit from public spending so that and their wages can circulate in the local economy.

Back in 2012 statistics showed that only 52% of Welsh public spending goes to companies based in Wales. Value Wales calculated that every additional 1% increase means 2000 more jobs in Wales. Improving Welsh public sector procurement to reach 75% would mean an increase of 46,000 jobs in Wales. Plaid has rightly called for legislation in procurement best practice to help create almost 50,000 jobs in Wales.

For once Wales has been ahead of the curve (even if the current Labour in Wales government (in Cardiff) has been dragging their collective feet), this is something that was recommended to the Welsh Government in the summer of 2012 by the  McClelland Report for the Welsh Government. It is reasonable for the Welsh Government to take action to ensure that a greater percentage of that money can be spent locally in Wales.

Our local authorities spend around £4 billion pounds (April 2012) worth of our money buying goods and services. A target of 75% of the public sector spend, being spent here in Wales, is an excellent idea, as it means that  around £3 billion pounds of tax-payers money staying in Wales.

A survey commissioned by the Welsh Government (back in July 2010) reported that almost half of all food and drink bought by schools, hospitals and local authorities in Wales was of Welsh origin. The 2010 Welsh Public Sector Food Purchasing survey revealed that Local authorities had increased their purchases of local food by 90.5% in the previous six years.

Key categories included bread, milk, fruit and vegetables, ready meals, soft drinks, dairy products and water. The NHS (in Wales)  purchased 69% of the food and drink products in Wales, when it comes to milk on average, 50.9% of all the milk purchased by Welsh local authorities for schools was locally-produced.

Welsh higher education purchases accounted for 41.3% in 2009, this compared with 28.7% in 2003, in the field of further education some, 39.6% of purchases were of Welsh origin, up from a previous figure of 16.8%. The survey noted that only organisations the MoD and our Police Forces purchased less food sourced from Wales with a 0.4% decrease.

The procurement process should build upon Local Sourcing Action Plan’s and should lead to real social, economic and environmental benefits for all our communities by retaining the money spent in the local economy. This is sustainable development as local investment can provide a range of benefits across the whole of Wales benefiting local farmers, local suppliers and producers and local people.

One side effect of this should be a reduction in food miles, reduced carbon emissions which to help fight climate change and reduced transport costs. If this is done right then we can ensure that more of that money remains in local economies longer and benefits local firms and food suppliers, to use a footballing metaphor prior to the start of the season, there is no reason why this should not be a real home win for Wales.