Tuesday, 15 December 2015


The devolution of control of the rail franchise (back in 2014) was welcomed along with the news that the Welsh Government would actively seek for the rail franchise to be run on a not for profit basis (something that Plaid have been calling for several years). This was important as it meant that we in Wales would be able to choose who operates its own railway for the first time. The not for dividend profit option makes the most sense as any profits made will remain within the franchise area rather than paying share holder dividends.

While that is positive stuff, it may be a case of glass half-full, as yet the element of Network Rail that covers Wales (and the marches) remains under the remit of the Department for Transport. Without full control of that portion of Network Rail the next Welsh Government will face a significant challenge when it comes to preparing for and delivering the next franchise; it is a task that must be accomplished.

One of the key elements in rebooting our economy is infrastructure investment and investing in our neglected railways.  Many of our existing railway stations suffer from some pretty significant gaps in services, and so are underused. The final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport needs to be completed and new railway stations at Caerleon (which has been in the local UDP since the 1980’s), Llanwern, Magor and Little Mill (with secure park and ride facilities) provide local communities with a regular rail service and reduce the ever-increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads.

Over twenty five years ago as a trainee journalist with the Pontypool Free Press, I interviewed commuters on wet and windy mornings at Cwmbran and Pontypool railway stations and  wrote up news stories about the poor service and train overcrowding. I am consciously aware that we have not progressed as far as we could when it comes to developing and sustaining a decent rail service for commuters here in the South East - something which goes someway to explain why so many people chose to drive to and from work.

We need our railway stations to be real transport hubs with fully integrated local bus services and expanded safer secure reasonably priced parking. We also need better facilities at Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow, Pontypool, Severn Tunnel Junction and Lydney railway stations. We need feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the old line from Little Mill to Usk along with the development of a new railway station at Usk.

Outside of the South East, the next Welsh Government should take a more strategic view and commit to rebuilding and reopening the line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth and push to redevelop the line north to Caernarfon and Bangor.  In Scotland, significant strides have been made to reopen; redevelop and build a coherent and integrated public transport system, something that we in Wales need to aspire to.

In Wales, we lag significantly behind Scotland, over the last 16 years there have been two successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (which was partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008). Unlike in Scotland here in Wales we have lacked any real political dynamism; as these were largely administrative rather than legislative projects.

Plaid Cymru believes that a revitalised not for profit railway service in Wales can and should lead to more areas of our country being opened up to both new and reopened rail services. This combined with the long overdue electrification of the valley lines no to mention the Great Western mainline to Swansea would be the basis for a decent rail network. Yet the job will remain only half done until full control of railway infrastructure is devolved to Wales so that both the development of the franchise and the development of our railway infrastructure can be planned together.

Friday, 11 December 2015


The UK Westminster Government appears to be entirely set on pushing ahead with TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) regardless of any potential consequences for our public services. Devolution, even the flawed settlement we have, means our public services are devolved to Wales, the devolved government should be granted a veto in order to protect our NHS and other services from sweeping privatisation.

Public services should be in public hands and markets should be democratically accountable for their decisions. Public services such as our Welsh national health service should not be put at risk as a result of shadowy dealings that the UK Government is so desperate to sign up to. We need to ensure that our public services are protected from being plundered for profit by multi-nationals companies and that they remain democratically accountable.

The impending US-EU trade agreement aims to merge the EU's common market with that of the United States, but without any of the built in social and political safeguards, which are at least nominally supposed to exist within in the EU. The problem is that much of the negotiations have been conducted in secret.

Surely if there was nothing to hide then the discussions should be held in full public session and full texts of the proposals published as a matter of routine. For any trade deal to have wider public support, it must unquestionably drop any proposals for a shadow corporate legal system and ensure that the EU’s already existing environmental and social safeguards are maintained.

Any trade deal that does go ahead should definitely not be a large corporation closed shop in relation to trading across the Atlantic, as it most definitely appears at the moment. 99% of Welsh companies are SMEs, they make up the backbone of the Welsh economy - and they deserve as much of a look in with any trade deal as the big companies.

The agreement is highly controversial, the TTIP agreement risks opening up more areas of public services (including within the NHS) to private competition (something which suits the privatisation agenda of most of the Westminster based political parties), particularly those services where there is already non-government provision such as with social care.

The reality is that a strong and very productive trading relationship already exists between the EU and US. And this is a good thing. What the TTIP agreement as it is proposed will do, is give corporations unprecedented power over our public services and seriously threaten democratic decisions in the pursuit of company profit.

By discussing these issues in secret, negotiators from both sides are doing deals behind closed doors, which do not have public support and will remain largely un-discussed and un-scrutinised. We need a full honest and open debate about what TTIP should include, based on what is best for people, not multi-national companies and American trade and our own Welsh government should be standing up for our national interests.

After the financial crisis of 2007/08 and the resultant bail out of the private sector it might have been hoped that the pendulum might have swung in favour of democracy to rebalance flawed corporate power. That said, it is apparent that the Westminster based political parties don’t think so hence their relative silence on the implications of TTIP on our public services.

We need a much more democratic economy, driven and shaped by the needs of the people it serves. The TTIP agreement threatens this basic principle and as is should be rejected. The complete lack of transparency is disturbing particularly as much of the negotiation have ominously been conducted behind closed doors and little has been divulged in terms of the exact content and the level of the risk to our public services.

In its current form TTIP means that Europe will be subject to American-style 'light touch' regulation for corporate take-overs and practices. It threatens to open up our public services to the possibility of aggressive private take-overs. More disturbingly the profits of corporations will be 'future proofed’ so that any changes to laws or regulations by democratically elected governments will be open to corporate challenge.

As if bailing the banks out with public money was not bad enough, this means that all of us taxpayers may end up having to pay to make up for the potential loss of projected corporate profits. That loss of democratic accountability over our public services may well also mean that future decisions will not be subject to review by our own judiciary, but instead referred to private, corporate, closed-door courts.