Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Making tracks for Cymru / Wales?
The study for the Campaign for Better Transport, which makes interesting reading, shows that rail services in Wales are used less, have lower levels of passenger satisfaction, are lagging behind other parts of the UK and could be improved by devolving responsibility for our railways from Westminster to Wales. The report was released as details were released of a £ 24 million pounds ( includes £17m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) £ 5.1 million pounds from the Welsh Government, £ 700,000 pounds from Network Rail, and £ 400,000 pounds from Arriva Trains Wales) for much needed upgrades of railway stations at Rhyl, Aberystwyth, Pontypridd, Port Talbot Parkway and Ystrad Mynach. Improvements to the five railway stations will see welcome improvements to customer facilities, better access, increased capacity and more park and ride spaces.

The devolved Scottish rail service has delivered more and fared better than our rail service which is still managed by Whitehall. Discussions between the Department for Transport and the Welsh government in relation to scoping out the feasibility of devolving responsibilities for the rail franchise held until 2018 by Arriva Trains Wales are said to be on-going. Any comparison between Scotland and Wales is pretty much always going to be stark, with devolved management of services in Scotland consistently delivering significantly better results than the equivalent un-devolved management of services in Wales. Wales and Welsh interests are always going to come pretty low down the list in the priorities of a largely England focused Whitehall government department.  

There is considerable room for improvement when it comes to the provision and development of our railway services here in Wales. Firstly, full control of the transport budget and related planning regulations needed to be devolved to the Welsh Government and secondly when the franchise is renewed in 2018 the railways in Wales should be run on a  not for dividend profit basis, with all profits being ring fenced and reinvested into our railways. The healthy profits run up during the period when the East Coast mainline serve has been run by the Westminster Government after the collapse of the private franchise shows what could possibly be achieved here in our country.   

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


Once again the Labour in Wales Welsh Government has missed a real opportunity to actually deliver a modern planning system to meet the needs of the people of Wales in the 21st century. Our planning system is in need of root and branch reform so simply tinkering with the existing out-dated legislation as suggested the Welsh Government White Paper on Planning simply won’t do.

Our planning system, along with our pretty much nineteenth century local government setup is not designed to coexist with devolution or for that matter fit to deliver planning decisions with real and lasting benefits for local people and local communities. There is a real need for root and branch reform and reorganisation of our planning system; the Welsh Government’s decision to simply tinker and tweak with existing out-dated legislation in its White Paper on Planning (which was released on 4th December) is disappointing to say the least.

Our current planning system is too focussed railroading through large housing developments that bring little benefits for local people and local communities. We need a fundamental change in planning culture to encourage appropriate and sustainable development which is based on good design and actively promotes energy efficiency and good environmental standards.

An opportunity to address the shortage of affordable housing, to encourage more small-scale renewable energy projects, and to actively support small businesses in relation to the Planning Bill has been missed.  It is time to start the process of actually addressing the flawed LDP (Local Development Plan) and UDP (Unitary Development Plan) system which does not deliver for local communities and fails to serve our national interests.

Our planning system and planning processes are too slow, too bureaucratic and too unresponsive to local needs and local opinions. The current system is based on the post-war Town and Country Planning Act from 1947 and is simply out-dated; our country needs a modern planning system that meets the needs of modern Welsh society. In line with the realities of devolution our country needs an independent Planning inspectorate for Wales as the old single planning inspectorate for England and Wales is increasingly unsustainable.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


The quiet if not stealthy rise in the number of food banks across our country and the growth in the number of people who have been driven to use them should be shocking. What should also shock us is the speed with which food banks have become an established and sadly necessary part of our social landscape and people’s lives.

One interpretation is that, if nothing else the flawed austerity policy being actively pursued by Westminster is clearly not working for Wales. Also perhaps the growth in the number of food banks is also a clear indicator of a good forty years of failure of the Union to deliver real and lasting prosperity and economic benefits to the Welsh people.

According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), food poverty may well be becoming the next public health emergency. The number of people using food banks in Wales has rocketed in recent years, and has almost tripled in the last year. Figures produced by the Trussell Trust show that the number of food bank users has risen from 12,377 over six months in 2012 to 32,500 for six months in 2013 and also that some eleven thousand children have used food banks in the last six months in Wales.

The growth in the use of food banks is a result of the combined effect of the soaring cost of living, austerity cuts and ongoing stagnation in wages all of which means that more and more people in Wales are dependent on donations and charity to eat. The figures show that over thirty thousand people in Wales have been forced to take emergency food supplies or face going hungry. A third of these are children. Health experts are correct to be disturbed by these figures which suggest that food poverty could be the next big health emergency to hit Wales.

We have to get the basics right and a healthy diet is part of the solution, and an action needs to be taken to stop this food poverty becoming a major public health emergency. The Welsh Government should shake of it's self induced lethargy and actively and urgently revise its Anti-Poverty Strategy to introduce measures that will tackle the problem of food poverty head-on.

There are a number of ways to help people to help themselves including encouraging community food growing schemes, by making more land available for allotments and by working with food producers to make sure surplus stock can be sold at markets at affordable prices as well as support for producer co-ops are all measures that could bring down the cost of food.

The Labour in Wales Welsh Government needs to act to develop a long term sustainable food plan to guarantee good quality food at affordable prices to people in all parts of Wales. We need to see long term action being taken to minimise the impact of damaging UK Government austerity measures on Wales.

As part of this approach Plaid Cymru has advocated a ‘no evictions’ policy on the Bedroom Tax so that nobody can be turned out of their home as a direct result of this cruel tax. It has to be unacceptable for families living in Wales in the 21st century to find themselves in living in such a desperate and insecure situation. That’s why Plaid Cymru continues to fight for serious action to help and support, not punish these struggling families and children.

Friday, 13 December 2013


The latest GVA figures (released on 11th December) don’t make pleasant reading, one interpretation is that the Labour in Wales Welsh Government and Con Dem Westminster Governments have allowed the Welsh economy to enter a spiral of decline and they continue to offer no meaningful route to recovery. The Chancellor's remains unhealthy fixated with obsessively investing in London and the South East, something that is reflected in the dire GVA figures which not unexpectedly reveal the vast wealth gap between the English capital and many other parts of the British State.

The figures are the latest reminder that Westminster austerity isn't working for Wales and that a lethargic Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff is continuing to fail to protect Welsh people from the Coalition's damaging policies, let alone allegedly stand up for Wales. The GVA figures showing that parts of West London are a 12 times wealthier than parts of Wales.  Clearly Westminster austerity isn't working for Wales and the Labour in Wales Welsh Government's inertia and complacency are only making matters worse.

As long as the Chancellor still remains fixated with a recovery focused on London and the South East, what we increasingly urgently need is a Westminster Economic Fairness Bill to rebalance the economy and bring prosperity to other parts of the UK. Plaid Cymru has always argued that the only real route to recovery is investment in vital infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and railways that would generate jobs and growth. This is something that cannot be achieved in our country unless vital job-creating powers are transferred from Westminster to Wales.

We have reached the point where almost any progress on implementing the Silk Commission's recommendations should be welcomed but Labour in Wales must not back themselves into the anti-devolution corner by dragging their heels over the issue of an income-tax referendum. An income-tax sharing arrangement is necessary it is a vital tool which could be used to deliver  real and meaningful investment powers. The time for dithering and self induced inertia is past and the economic interests of the Welsh people need to come before narrow political self interest.

Thursday, 12 December 2013


The recent self generated row over the green levies is a classic attempt to distract people’s attention away from the realities of energy subsidies.  As the Con Dem government denounces proposals for a two-year price freeze as "socialism" the Westminster government has guaranteed EDF and Chinese state investors in the nuclear sector fixed above average prices for energy the next 35 years.

The small print of the deal for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley guarantees the French-owned EDF and Chinese state investors a strike price of £92.50 per MegaWatt Hour (or £89.50 if a second plant is built), this is around twice the current market rate for wholesale energy. This price per unit will rise in line with inflation and is being guaranteed for 35 years – so much of the ‘free market’.

The real irony is that in the event of wholesale prices falling or rising at a slower rate than expected, then it is we, the public who will pick up the tab in the form of higher taxes or higher bills. The Energy Institute at University College London has estimated that the annual public subsidy will be around £ 800 million to - £ 1 billion pounds. This is on-top of the current £ 2.3 billion pound annual subsidy most of which ends up as a form of funding to deal with legacy nuclear waste.

The problem is that we all face is significantly down to the cumulative effect of an almost unregulated energy market and the unscrupulous activities of the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel members who will continue to maximise their profits at our expense because they simply can get away with it. The three Westminster based political parties have dropped any pretence of trying to regulate the energy market, to curb excessive profiteering or even to attempt any long term energy planning.

There is no quick fix, as energy efficiency schemes install insulation help to reduce carbon emissions and reduce fuel energy bills over the long term rather than the short term. If green levies are to be reduced, and I don’t think that they should be, then energy efficiency and fuel poverty reduction schemes should be paid for out of (progressive) general taxation - with the burden placed on higher end of the income bracket.

Monday, 9 December 2013


Whether the Ukraine aligns itself with the European Union or with Moscow is of some importance,  far beyond the long overdue removal of old Soviet street art, it will define the relationship between the EU and Russia for the foreseeable future. Other former Soviet republics who have been sitting on the fence will be watching events in Kyiv with veiled interest to see what happens and to see how Russia reacts. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv seeking the resignation of the government for refusing a deal on closer ties with the European Union. The demonstrators protested initially about President Yanukovych's decision last month to suspend work on an association and free-trade accord with the EU. President Yanukovych defended that decision by saying the accord with the EU would damage close trade ties with Russia. 

The protesters, who oppose a customs union with Russia, toppled a statue of Lenin and smashed it with hammers. This action followed a massive pro-EU demonstration on Independence Square on December 8th that attracted hundreds of thousands of people angered by Yanukovych's recent snub of the European Union in favour of improved ties with Moscow. However, the protesters are now calling for new parliamentary and presidential elections since the violent police crackdown against demonstrators on November 30th left dozens injured. The anger over the decision by Ukraine's political leadership to pull out of an EU Association Agreement has resulted in some of the largest public demonstrations since the country's Orange Revolution in 2004-05, which were sparked by a rigged presidential election won by Yanukovych. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013


Lets be honest, Westminster austerity agenda is not working in our national interest. In response to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, Plaid Cymru has renewed its commitment to securing a Welsh economic recovery and tackling the cost of living crisis by creating meaningful, well-paid jobs and bringing down energy prices. Over £ 1 billion pounds will have been wiped from Welsh economy this year by the Westminster Government, and cuts to Welsh public services extending far in to the future are having a devastating effect.

That is why Wales needs greater financial and policy powers to shape the economy here, create jobs and more sustainable growth. The Government response to the Silk Commission has said that Wales is set to have greater investment powers which would be maximised by the income tax sharing arrangements. All parties in Wales need to  push on with this for the benefit of the Welsh economy.

The change of focus in the Funding for Lending scheme from mortgages to businesses should be welcomed as both business investment and lending remain in a depressed state. Plaid Cymru would implement a public development / business investment bank ("A Bank of Wales") to lend to SMEs, and develop local industries here. Plaid Cymru also wants to cut business rates for thousands of Welsh businesses.

Although a reduction in consumer energy bills is to be welcomed, Plaid Cymru has concerns that the reduction will not apply to off-grid consumers in rural areas. The real reason for soaring bills is profiteering by the members of the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel, something that the current Con Dem Coalition government and the last Labour government entirely failed to tackle. That is why Plaid Cymru has proposed a publicly-owned energy company, Energy Wales, with a not-for-distributable-profit model.

Plaid Cymru has also criticised the Chancellor's announcement that workers will be expected to work for up to five years longer in changes to the state pension. We in Wales will be hit disproportionately by these changes due to our lower life expectancy, and it is particularly perverse to reduce the job opportunities available to young people at a time when UK youth unemployment stands at a million.

Friday, 6 December 2013

NELSON MANDELA 1918 - 2013

Nelson Mandela the First fully democratically elected South African President, leader of the African National Congress and statesman has died and we are all sadly diminished for his passing. He himself dismissed suggestions that he was some sort of saint, rather a sinner who kept on trying. Some people just make the world a better place by simply trying (and trying again and again), and Mr Mandela was one of those. Mr Mandela was a positive example of hope and forgiveness triumphing over hate, adversity and life experience, to his lasting credit.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


Not that you would be aware of it from the UK media but another positive milestone was passed on the 29th November (2013) when the leaders of Georgia and Moldova signed their countries Association Agreements with the European Union. These agreements are an important step in their bid for membership of the 28-nation bloc, although as pen touched paper there must have been lingering thoughts about how Russia would react.

I am acutely aware that the largely London based and London centric UK  media rarely carries any positive EU related stories, but, as an interested child raised during the now thankfully historic Cold War era, the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, is a positive event. The fact that the largely unheralded (by the UK media) summit was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, a country that was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944 until 1991, in itself shows how far we have all travelled in recent years.

The problem is that the summit has understandably deepened real fears of harsh retaliation from Russia in both Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin has reacted aggressively and somewhat successfully to prevent the Ukraine from signing its own EU pact. Just days before the deal was due to be sign the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych walked away from the deal in Vilnius, in the process sparking a political crisis in the Ukraine and revamping the democratic western looking opposition.

Pro-European Demonstrators in the Ukraine (Picture from Reuters)
Thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians poured onto the streets of the capital , Kiev, on 24th November the crowd being  estimated at being more than 100,000 with larger demonstrations being held since then. The opposition continues to demand that the government resign after President Viktor Yanukovych decided to postpone the signing of a deal on closer ties with the European Union.

The Ukrainian parliament debated and held a stormy vote of no confidence in the government which the government just about managed to win. The Ukrainian President’s decision has sparked some of the biggest protests in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution back in 2004.

Only a few hours after the initialling ceremony, the Moldovan Prime Minister Leanca openly called on Moscow not to shut down the communication line with Chisinau. The reality is that Moscow will probably wait until after the Sochi Winter Olympics in February are over to initiate retaliatory measures to avoid any 'bad press' in close proximity to Russia’s golden Olympic moments on the media spotlight.

EU leaders in Vilnius condemned Russia for its pretty blatant bullying of Ukraine into shelving its landmark association deal with Europe in favour of retaining closer ties with Moscow. Russian sanctions could have devastating effects on Georgia's and Moldova's still-fragile economies as Russia is an important export market for both countries and regular destination for guest workers from both countries.

Perhaps this is the price to be paid for not following the bear
Georgia imports most of its natural gas from Azerbaijan and Moldova relies almost exclusively on gas from Russia - a state that has some form for periodically tightening the tap on its neighbours when it wants to. Russia has no right to try to dictate or to approve or disapprove whatever organisations economic or political associations independent countries might want to join.

Yet, the view from the Kremlin (or the Hermitage) is different, the sight of the EU map getting ever larger and drawing in more and more former Eastern bloc and former Soviet (however unwilling) republics is bound to set historic alarm bells ringing, not to mention setting the ghosts of Peter the Great and Stalin pacing the corridors of the Kremlin or the Hermitage. The dominant Russian component of the Soviet Union historically and practically ended up seeing the CCCP as an extension of greater Russia.

Smaller peripheral nationalities were (and continue to be in some circles) patronisingly and dismissed as possessing simple local political and linguistic peculiarities, this somewhat patronising idea, is entirely understandable particularly if you are Scottish, Irish, Breton, Catalan, Basque or Welsh. Or if you are participating in what looks (at least from the South East of our country) to be a somewhat one sided (London centric media wise) debate on Scottish independence. 

Dean Acheson, US Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman, once rightly said that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. In my opinion this well perceived observation was right then (in 1962) and is still right today; it’s been fifty years since the Empire was lost and the ‘Brit’ elite have still not got over it or adjusted to economic and political realities of their situation. Much the same can be said for Russia...

We are fifty years down the road since the end of Empire, yet the Westminster elite continue to preside over Fantasy Island and to act out a delusional role on the World stage. If nothing else this should, provide a degree of understanding to unfolding events in the East and Russia’s behaviour. The Russians lost their Empire in barely a fortnight (in late August 1991) and their elite and many (but by no means all) Russian citizens may well be a long way from getting over it and adjusting to the new realities and opportunities.