Wednesday, 29 April 2015


This election is about more than a cynical choice between which of the usual suspects will end up with theirs hand in the till. Austerity aside, one of the largely unspoken themes, at least by the Westminster based political parties; of this election campaign is the on-going problem of tax evasion. The HSBC foreign accounts scandal that broke back in February was merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the avoidance of paying tax.

The UK suffers from a Tax Gap; this is scandalous and goes to show how much the Westminster elite has completely disregarded any commitment towards fairness and social justice at a time of unprecedented cuts to public services. Beyond the tax evasion, the real problem is that the Westminster based political parties have been fundamentally compromised by the prolonged and unhealthily close relationship with the City.

We are where we are because of the cumulative effect of the legacy of 18 years of Conservative and 13 years of New Labour government. Over recent decades, successive Labour and Tory governments literally looked the other way, when it came to tax evasion, allowing the UK's tax gap to grow to an eye-watering £34 billion each year. Total fiscal consolidation over the course of this Parliament amounts to £120 billon pounds, which indicates the scale of the problem.

Labour can cry wolf until it goes horse over this scandal, but these lost billions are their legacy as much as the Tories'.  Back in 2005, the last Labour UK Westminster Government merged Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise and then proceeded to cut almost a third of jobs in five years (99,000 to 68,000).  They also slashed the budget for tackling the tax gap by nearly 50% (£3.6 billon to £1.9 billion) between 2006-10.

The weasel-like cop out of simply relying on ‘business as usual’ to fix the tax evasion issue is duplicitous at best – for all the hot air and the rhetoric from the usual suspects - expecting Westminster to fix the problem could at best be described as naive. We need to deal with Tax evasion with concerted worldwide action – the Swiss banks have crumbled in the face of court cases in the US (a few Swiss banks have even collapsed) in relation to tax avoidance by US citizens.

So if the USA can do it, then why not the UK – for one thing there is a lack of any great desire to do anything about it (hence Ed Ball’s telling silence). The UK’s Crown Dependency Tax havens are based in some of the few remaining (fiscally useful) scattered remnants of Empire lie at the dark heart of the tax evasion problem.

Plaid Cymru will not compromise on its commitment to tackling tax evasion. Vast sums of money that should have been collected properly and invested in vital public services such as health and education have been lost. Plaid Cymru, while the Westminster parties fall over themselves to appease the City bankers and their wealthy backers, puts Welsh communities first.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


The latest GDP figures show the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition government’s austerity experiment has failed. Plaid Cymru's plans for modest growth in departmental spending of 0.5 per cent in addition to an increase in infrastructure spend would lead to a balanced economy and healthier public finances.

Leanne Wood AM/AC Party of Wales leader said:

“The latest GDP figures reflect the fact that the economy has been choked by the austerity experiment. This has been the slowest post-recession recovery in living memory resulting in an imbalanced economy and missed fiscal targets.

"The UK is the only major economy where the gap between rich and poor is widening. The poorest ten per cent have borne the brunt for harsh cuts. Wages in parts of Wales are ten times lower per head than parts of inner London and people are stuck in under-employment and zero hours contracts.

"Austerity is a choice. We cannot have healthy public finances without first securing a balanced economy. That is why Plaid Cymru advocates breathing space for businesses and communities. Modestly increasing government investment in services and improving infrastructure would provide the basis for a balanced economy and job opportunities across the UK.

"For every pound spent on infrastructure, a further three pounds of activity is generated in the economy. For every percentage increase in GDP, around £700 million is added to the tax take.

"Bringing down the deficit through investment is the only responsible approach. People in Wales have the option of rejecting further counter-productive cuts and backing investment with Plaid Cymru at this election. It's time for a humane economic policy that protects our treasured public services and delivers a climate for businesses to flourish."

Monday, 27 April 2015


Plaid Cymru is in principle in favour of English votes for English laws. But for an EVEL system to work there has to be a real equality of powers amongst the nations or else we risk ending up with a complete constitutional and legislative shambles. We cannot either have a situation whereby Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs are barred from voting on matters that have a direct funding implication for those nations and that's why the Barnett Formula should be scrapped and replaced with a fairer funding settlement. Our family of nations is going through a period of rapid change, and Plaid Cymru wants to see us develop into a family of equals, but with the half-baked proposals outlined by the unionist parties that is just not going happen. The real danger is that Wales gets left behind and the only way we can stop this happening is by having a strong representation of Plaid Cymru MPs making the case for Wales in Westminster. Only Plaid Cymru will look after Wales’ interests no one else.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


It’s been a busy four days with three Hustings on consecutive evening in Monmouth (a  Transition towns Monmouth and Abergavenny / Crickhowell Friends of the Earth Green Hustings) on Wednesday, a BMA Hustings in Newport (on Thursday evening) and a Church in Wales Hustings at Trellech (on Friday evening). All were well attended and the audiences produced interesting questions. 
First out of three consecutive Hustings...
This was followed up a commemorative parade to malt the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli Campaign (Anzac Day) on Saturday organised by Chepstow town council and the Chepstow Branch of the British Legion and contingents from veterans organisations and voluntary bodies, watch by a sizeable crowd of onlookers. 

On parade in Chepstow

This was followed by a late morning and afternoon canvassing session (it’s still very positive on the doors) in Bulwark, in Chepstow. 

On the stump in Bulwark, Chepstow
A few more housings last week (with the last one being at Monmouth Baptist Church, in Monmouth, which kicks off at 7.30pm on Friday May 1st) and the final round of canvassing and leafleting.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


Getting connected...
Plaid Cymru has pledged to improve broadband connectivity across Wales and give rural businesses the access to the infrastructure that they need to compete. Ofcom ranks five out of the twenty administrative authorities in Wales in the lowest category for broadband speed. This lack of access to high speed Internet is holding rural businesses back and acts as a real deterrent to potential investors. If we are serious about helping rural businesses compete then it is vital that we give them access to fast speed internet and mobile signal. This is why Plaid Cymru has plans to deliver superfast broadband to 100% of Wales. Plaid wants to see an improved broadband connection, getting everybody online so that rural businesses can compete. Our target to ensure that all parts of Wales have access to speeds of at least 30Mbps and ensure that mobile phone operators provide a better service in all parts of Wales. This is why Plaid Cymru will be the champion of rural Wales, and delivering strong rural infrastructure is a fundamental part of that.

Monday, 20 April 2015


Several of our health services have struggled because of staff pressures, there are simply not enough doctors to deliver services safely. This situation is mirrored in the primary care sector, where up to 40% of our GP’s are close to retirement in some areas and because of this GP services are beginning to come under pressure. Problems with recruiting the next generation of GP’s means that existing doctors are increasingly overworked and increasingly under pressure. We need to start to address these issues and attract more doctors in GP and hospital practice. There is no one single magic solution to the recruitment crisis; Plaid has proposed a combination of policies that will attract 1000 extra doctors. These include financial incentives including a bond scheme to pay off student loans in exchange for guaranteed service – this has been used very successfully in New Zealand. A combination of direct salaries to attract GP’s to those areas where it is difficult to recruit and making use of the EU to fill short term gaps – something that too many of our Local Health Boards (LHBs) have failed to use – so far on three of our LHB have half-heartedly tried to recruit doctors from the EU. These are short term solutions, along with this we need long term investment in our medical schools to create home grown doctors. Currently some 95% of doctors who complete their training in Wales choose to stay in Wales. It is also important that training rotas should give trainee doctors a much wider experience, particularly in those areas where it is hard to recruit – this is particularly crucial when it comes to recruiting GP’s.

Friday, 17 April 2015


Despite the promises of more money for Wales if Labour in Westminster actually implement the Mansion Tax, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has forecast that Labour’s plans will in fact lead to real term cuts. Perhaps it’s time for Labour to come clean and admit that they plan to cut the Welsh Budget.

Plaid Cymru has rightly warned voters not to be deceived by the Labour party’s spin. For while Labour has been talking about raising money through a mansion tax, they have already signed up to plans that will cut more than a billion pounds from Wales’ economy.

Labour has already confirmed that previously that it will stick to the Con Dem  plan to cut departmental spending by over £1.5bn across the UK. This lower base for expenditure means that Wales will lose an additional £365 million over the next five years compared with 2014-15.

The IFS has estimated (March 2015) that starting this year (2015) Wales and the other devolved administrations will end up losing 2.2 per cent of their funding in real terms by the end of the next parliament leading to a cumulative, real terms loss for Wales of £835 million. Taken together Labour will cut funding to Wales by £1.2bn (£365m plus £835m) in real terms over the coming five years.

Despite Labour’s belated acknowledgement that Wales is underfunded, Labour still intend to make yet deeper cuts into the Welsh budget. Once again Labour are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by claiming that they will put more money into Wales’ economy while signing off spending plans that will cut more than £1 billion from Wales. This is a classic case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Plaid Cymru is the only party in Wales making the case to stop austerity and to grow our economy. We also want Wales to be funded to the same level as Scotland. Plaid Cymru’s economic plans are focused on growing Wales’ economy. We need to invest to create jobs, increase our tax intake and bring down the deficit. We need to close the gap between the rich and the poor and we are the only party focused on rebalancing power and wealth throughout the UK.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


Since the last election £1.5 billion has been slashed from Welsh public services and all parties agree that Wales has been underfunded since at least 1978. Yet only Plaid Cymru has called for a reversal of the cuts agenda pursued by the Con Dem coalition since the last election, and equality of funding with Scotland.
Plaid Cymru’s has a double pledge to end the current austerity agenda and right forty-year’s of under-funding. The other parties have now confirmed that should they win the election outright, they will not deliver parity for Wales on funding.  There is a real risk that our funding disadvantage could be locked in for another generation, this in simply unacceptable.

With Polling Day pending the polls continue to suggest that we will end up with a hung Parliament. This makes it more important than ever to make sure that Wales has a strong voice in the next Westminster parliament. Only Plaid Cymru MPs will continue to fight for Welsh public services and to secure equality of funding with Scotland. If Plaid Cymru holds the balance of power at Westminster then we have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver that investment for Wales.

In making promises to keep the current funding arrangements in place for Scotland, the Westminster parties should commit to rectifying Wales’ poor treatment. There is no compelling argument in favour of Wales being treated as a second-class nation or any reason why patients and pupils in Wales should be disadvantaged. Equality of funding would amount to an additional £1.2 billion a year for the country. That’s 1.2 billion reasons to back Plaid Cymru at this election.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


Cross the Bridge(s) and pay the tax on jobs! 
The Severn bridge tolls are a tax on going to work and are a tax on doing business and its time to bring an end to the tax on going to work. Even though the private toll franchise may come to an end in 2018 the tolls may yet continue to be collected until 2027 by the Westminster Government and the Department for Transport.
A Plaid Cymru freedom of information request revealed that while the Severn crossings are likely to finally return to public ownership by 2018, the Westminster Government will still have the right to recover its costs. This right lasts until 2027. With the present toll rates it would take one to two years for the Westminster Government to recoup its costs but at the moment it is deliberately keeping its intentions hidden.
The Westminster Government needs to come clean on its plans after 2018 and whether it intends to keep charging up to 2027 and beyond. With control of the tolls devolve a Plaid Cymru Government would reduce the tolls to around £2 (under today’s prices) to cover maintenance, staff costs and contingencies. Eliminating the tolls altogether would be kept under review and would depend on costs.
The tolls could form a useful revenue stream for Welsh Governments, but the priority of Plaid Cymru is to cut the tolls. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, Severn River Crossings plc will have milked its cash cow to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. The scale of the profits has been helped by the fact that routine maintenance of the old (M48) Severn Bridge (which is periodically closed at weekends) has continued to be funded by the Department for Transport, from the public coffers.

We simply cannot rely on the Department for Transport to act to further our interests at all. It is important that preparations for the end of the privately administered toll franchise begin as soon as possible. The Severn Bridges (and tolls) might well be out or sight and out of mind to most Westminster based ministers but they loom very large in the imagination (and the wallets) of long suffering commuters, businesses and visitors here in the south as they are literally a tax on going to work and on doing business.
The tolls to cross the Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing into Wales have risen yet again. From 1 January (2015), cars have to pay £6.50 - up from the current £6.40 - small goods vehicles and small buses received a 30p rise to £13.10, and heavy goods vehicles and buses faced a rise up to £19.60, from £19.20. The current owners of the Severn Toll bridges are Severn River Crossing PLC who are able to increase the cost every January in line with the Retail Price Index.
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act by Plaid, the UK Highways Agency, said:
“Severn River Crossing (SRC) is entitled to collect a defined sum from the tolls (£1,028.9m in July 1989 prices) and the current forecasts indicate that this sum will be recouped in 2018. 
“After this time, the crossings will be handed back to the Government. No decisions have been made regarding the future of the Severn bridges.  From this point onwards, government has the right to recoup its own costs from the construction, maintenance and management of the bridge until 2027.  This would be for costs that fall outside of the scope of the current concession for example costs incurred for cable corrosion work. 
“Based on a continuation of current arrangements it is expected to take 1-2 years to recover this money, however, the exact nature of that regime has yet to be determined.”
The Highways Agency listed spending on work on main cable corrosion on the first Severn crossing as  £5,272,000 between 2010-11 and 2014-15. Then in the following three financial years the project spending costs will be another £4,767,000 from next April through to 2017-18.
Back in 2012, Plaid Cymru submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport seeking details of any correspondence between it and the Welsh Government on the level of tolls since May 2011, the last Assembly elections. In its response the Department of Transport merely listed emails between the Highways Agency and the Welsh Government advising of planned increases in tolls for 2012 and 2013. An FOI request revealed that there was no other correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government. 
In 2012 a report for the Welsh government suggested that abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day – and that businesses and commuters forked out around £ 80 million pounds a year crossing the Severn bridges.
Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore produced an independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls, which recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. This study of 122 businesses was commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.

While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the 2010 study found that transport; construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The 2010 study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport.

Studies and reports aside we continue to have little choice but to pay what is effectively for many people simply a tax on going to work, doing business or simply visiting Wales.