Monday, 30 June 2014


There are times when Westminster, the Euro sceptics and perhaps the City are happy for the 22 miles of water separating the British Isles from the European mainland to seem psychologically much wider than they are geographically. Economically at times, particularly when it comes to the model for energy production, distribution and ownership those few miles of water at times might as well be a thousand miles wide. 

I mention this because last week Ofgen referred the energy market (this is Ofgen speak for the big 6 energy cartel members) to the Competition and Markets Authority for a full investigation. Ofgem says that the investigation should ensure, once and for all, that competition works effectively for consumers, by bearing down on prices while driving improvements in customer service and innovation.

Let’s just say that I for one won’t be holding my breath... as our energy production and distribution model has been restructured (over the years) to primarily benefit the big 6 energy cartel members, their interests and their (City) profits. From the perspective of energy consumers and smaller scale energy producers, the problem is that all the Westminster based political parties had quietly bought into this cartel dominated model of energy production and ownership.

The reality is that the UK’s cartel dominated model for energy production and distribution is not necessarily the norm everywhere in Europe. Alternatives exist and prosper, a particularly good example of a balanced and healthy energy mix can be found in Germany. Here small may very well be beautiful, particularly in relation to energy, back in 2012 some 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 and part of the energy mix. Incidentally in Germany, citizens’, cooperatives, and communities own more than half of German renewable capacity. Small scale electricity generation is having a knock on effect encouraging change throughout the energy system.

In Berlin, a cooperative (Burger Energie Berlin – literally Berlin Citizens Energy) is campaigning to take control of the capital's electricity grid with some 35,000 km of underground cables. The cooperative is a free, cross-party coalition of citizens who are committed to a sustainable, sustainable and democratic energy policy in Berlin. Members have one vote regardless of the amount their deposit and anyone who wants the power network to be in civil hand, is welcome.

Ordinary Berliners have invested their cash in the venture with the intention of producing a reliable 100 percent renewable energy supply. The aim is to promote the integration of renewable energy into the grid and to invest a portion of the profits from this directly into the transition to renewable energy. At present the Berlin electricity grid is run by Vattenfall (whose concession runs out this year) regularly generates millions in profits, members of the co-operative believe that the profits from the grid operation should flow to Berlin’s citizens.  

This is grass roots energy generation that has potentially the power 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 may well be a case of small being both beautiful and perhaps more disturbing from the perspective of Westminster being both community beneficial and community owned. 

These developments are a million miles away from the alleged ‘Free market’ for energy that exists in the UK, which is dominated by the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel members. The way the current set up works, it is difficult to imagine ‘Government’ at most levels in the UK grasping  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 some of the devolved institutions. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014


A desperate need for News International
Much has been made of David Cameron’s (DC) blunder in relation to the phone hacking case, especially by the party formerly known as New Labour which moved swiftly to put the boot into DC. DC’s blunder whether unfortunate or calculated was not a criminal act and won’t land him in the International Court at The Hague, unlike some acts of one former New Labour leader. Legal issues and angry judges aside, at the end of the day, if the party formerly known as New Labour had not outlived its usefulness to News International then we may have found ourselves somewhere else. Perhaps employment opportunities within 10 Downing Street (and Scotland Yard) may have been as open to former News International employees under Gordon Brown as they were under DC. Perhaps if the party formerly known as New Labour had not been dropped by the Dirty Digger, then perhaps DC might have been attempting to put the boot in rather than Mr Milibland.  Additionally if the relationship with News International been maintained just exactly how vigorously would the party formerly known as New Labour pushed for any regulation of the news media or any enquiry into Fleet Streets misdeeds. Historically plenty of villains (elected or otherwise) and iffy media moguls - from Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, Harold Sidney Harmsworth, etc onwards -  have trodden the floors of Downing Street from the days of Lloyd George, who openly sold honours for cash, onwards. Putting the legal rumpus to one side there will be consequences of this mess that last longer than the media headlines. Basically as long as the incestuous relationship between the (mostly) Westminster based political leaders and Fleet Street remains important then there is no chance of any independent regulation of the worst aspects of the press behaviour, as personified by the phone hacking scandal. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


It’s time for the Labour in Wales Government to show some common sense and rule out its plan for a new M4 to the south of Newport (the so-called “Black Route”) on value for money and environmental grounds. Instead the Welsh Government should choose instead to invest in a high-quality upgrade to the existing A48 corridor; the so-called “Blue Route” which would come in at around £380 million pounds as opposed to the estimated £1 –£ 1.2 billion pounds cost of the “Black Route”.

The “Blue Route” can provide an innovative solution to the problem of the M4 and should mean that more money would be available for transport investment across the rest of our country. We can keep our economy in the south moving by investing in the “Blue Route” proposals around Newport. This would be a significant boost to the economy around the city, and would provide traffic with an alternative route when the M4 becomes too congested.

Both the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors support this proposal and it is a much quicker and more decisive way of dealing with the congestion than building a new M4 (which would not open until 2031). The choice of the ‘Blue Route’ would deliver a high-quality proposal which would boost Newport’s infrastructure at a much lower cost potentially could be completed by 2018. 

Now I have long believed that when spending public money, it is essential that it is worked exceptionally hard, with every single pound’s impact being maximized. The proposed M4 Relief Road (the “Black Route”) is poor value for public money as there are easier and cheaper more deliverable alternatives (‘The Blue Route’) to the proposed M4 Relief road. We need to upgrade the A48, SDR and the Queensway across the Llanwern site and we need more investment in our railways (including electrification of the valley lines and the proposed metro light rail system).

The “Blue Route” could solve the congestion issue on the M4 by 2018 and provide more than adequate relief of traffic congestion over the period to 2035. The UK Government’s forecasts showing a 20 per cent growth in traffic flow between 2012 and 2030, the Blue Route would satisfy capacity requirements to 2025. Incidentally the forecast for growth in the Welsh Government’s consultation document has already been shown to be in excess of actual flows for 2012 and 2013.

Another benefit from choosing the “Blue Route” is that it would also protect the sensitive environmental sites on the Gwent Levels. While it’s hard to put a financial cost on saving the Gwent Levels, the Blue Route option would save almost £620 million pounds which could then be reinvested in projects elsewhere in Wales. This would give the Labour in Wales Government an opportunity to reconsider its plans to borrow and the resultant commitment to spending £1 - £1.2 billion pounds + on a 14 kilometre stretch of motorway. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Today, once again trying to put Wales first, Plaid Cymru has tabled a series of amendments to the remaining stage of the Wales Bill, which is currently being debated in the Commons. The amendments seek to strengthen Wales’ economy and our democracy by boosting borrowing powers and give the National Assembly powers to hold binding referenda.

Plaid Cymru Treasury spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“Throughout the course of the Wales Bill, Plaid Cymru has sought to deliver the best deal possible for our nation by tabling ambitious amendments which would strengthen the Bill and provide the Welsh government with as wide an array of job-creating powers as possible.

“If passed, the amendments we have tabled would empower the Welsh Government to issue financial guarantees for infrastructure projects - if the Welsh Government secured 5% of the UK Government’s spend on guarantees it would underwrite £2bn of investment.

“Our amendments would also remove the handcuffs which prevent the Welsh Government from choosing what infrastructure projects to spend on, rather than being told to spend on the M4, for example. All four corners of Wales need ambitious infrastructure projects and the Westminster Government shouldn’t stand in the way of this.

“The Labour party regrettably, rather than strengthening the hand of the Labour-run Welsh Government to intervene in the Welsh economy, has tabled several wrecking amendments aimed at delaying progress in implementing the Bill. This is the only piece of Welsh legislation we have seen during this five-year parliament.   As the Bill stands Wales would still be playing catch-up with where Scotland is now. 

“Rather than make panicked pledges to Scotland and treat Wales as a second class nation, the Westminster parties should be taking this bill – and our nation’s best interests – seriously.”

Hywel Williams MP added:

“As far as Plaid Cymru’s constitutional amendment goes, it would ensure that the National Assembly for Wales had the power to hold binding referenda in order to honour the will of the Welsh people. 

“However, the Edinburgh Agreement which provides for a clear legal base for the referendum on Scottish independence in September has set a precedent for this.

“Plaid Cymru believes that Wales too should be granted this same power. Of course, not all referenda centre on questions of independence – it is the principal that the people of Wales should be able to decide what powers they have and when.

“It is simply a matter of democracy that if the National Assembly is to be granted further powers, that institution should have the power to ask the people of Wales whether they support certain measures.

It will be interesting to see how the representatives of those Westminster based political parties with electoral representation in Wales vote on Plaid’s amendments to the bill... 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


One of a growing list of unforeseen side effects of the NATO summit in Newport is that neither Newport County nor the Newport Gwent Dragons will be able to play at home between August 27th and September 7th because of security considerations. While many Newport residents attitudes towards the sporting sides in the city can be described as fickle at best, the growing implication is that the ‘lock down’ for the two day summit (which comes with a 10 day security operation) may well make life for residents somewhat challenging at best.
Coming soon - NATO tanks on Rodney Parades lawn?
With potentially some 60 world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, attending the summit outside the city, security will be understandably tight. This suggests that the security surrounding the summit (which is being held on 4-5 September at the Celtic Manor Resort) will have a serious impact on ordinary people’s everyday life. This latest sporting development follows the news that the city is already potentially facing such disruption that the Labour in Newport run City Council has considered closing Newport schools for the two days summit.
The city council has already warned of significant traffic delays and has told head teachers that closing their school is a serious option in what is the first week of term. For the record, Newport has 48 primary schools and nine secondary schools. Just to add to this heady if chaotic mix, along with the disruption to everyday life the City will also be the backdrop to anti NATO protestors and protests. There has been much talk about the potential opportunities and benefits to the city for hosting the summit but, the concern is that as with the prestigious Ryder Cup, once over, any medium to long term legacy may be relatively minimal

Monday, 16 June 2014


Regeneration, if it is done right can bring real and potentially long lasting benefits to many of our hard-pressed communities. It is important that regeneration is a process rather than an event and that is done for people rather than to people and does not end up simply enriching the regeneration professionals instead of our communities.  The unwritten rule should be if you are going to spend public money then you need to work the money exceptionally hard to ensure that every possible benefit is extracted. There is a real need to ensure that any bodies set up to spend public money are democratically accountable and are established after a wide ranging accessible consultation process. To most people this should all sound pretty reasonable and sensible stuff, but it has often been to easily overlooked. The danger is that many of our local authorities simply perceive ‘regeneration’ as a means to accessing additional public monies rather than bringing meaningful beneficial change too many of our communities. Hand in hand with this concerning trend, in recent years there has been a disturbing tendency to effectively marginalise any real community real involvement in the regeneration process, something that undermines the very objective of community based regeneration.

Saturday, 7 June 2014


This year (2015) is one for significant anniversaries, the 27th October 2014, will be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dutch city of 'S-Hertogenbosch. As part of the commemorations, 146 children were invited to attend the pre-World Cup Netherlands v Wales football friendly – a figure matching the number of Welsh solders (146) who died liberating the city. 
Later this month the Welsh contribution to the war effort and the liberation of Europe will be recognised in Cardiff, on Armed Forces Day. The Welsh soldiers who died in the battle were part of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division which spent four days in October 1944 struggling to free the city in southern Netherlands. Amongst them were members of three battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, soldiers from the Welch Regiment, and the Monmouthshire Regiment. 
The Dutch city and surrounding area (known locally as Den Bosch) saw allied forces free the city on 27 October, 1944 after fierce fighting. Ever since then, the link between Wales and the city has been marked annually by the October 1944 Foundation. Ahead of this year's anniversary, the Royal Netherlands Football Association and the Football Association of Wales (FAW), invited local youngsters from the city to Amsterdam to mark the occasion.