Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Scottish Budget

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP's) today voted by 1 vote to reject the minority SNP Government's budget for 2009/10. The SNP/Tories and 1 Indepenedent voted in favour whilst Labour, Lib Dems and the 2 Green MSP's voted against the £33 billion budget (nearly twice as much as what Wales gets!!)Alex Salmond has warned that if the budget is not passed he will resign. Will this result in an election and what will happen to Labour...(and the Lib Dems) if he does? Interesting times but more worrying for Scottish Local Authorities who don't know what their settlement will be and what the impact will be on their most vulnerable residents; shame Labour and Lib Dems MSP's hadn't thought about that before they threw the budget setting process into chaos.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

President Sarkozy.

I have never been much of a fan of right wing French Presidents but give credit where credit is due, President Sarkozy has given £565 million aid package to the French Newspaper industry which includes a 12 month free subscription to all 18 year olds in France for a newspaper of their choice and to boost readership. We can only dream of such innovative thinking in Wales where the Assembly couldn't find a couple of million to fund a daily Welsh newspaper. Don't even get me going about Trinity Mirror's dominance of the written press in Wales...it is exceptionally poor, we in North East Wales don't even have a daily newspaper since the Daily Post have abandoned this corner of Wales. We need a paper like the Scotchman...bring it on!!

Friday, 23 January 2009

How to spend public money? UDecide

This is taken from a newsletter delivered in Queensway and Whitegate wards of Caia Park


The two new Plaid Cymru councillors in Caia Park have launched a pilot scheme in their wards that will see the people decide how council money is spent.
Every year, councillors are given a relatively small pot of money to spend on environmental improvements on council estates - it could be spent on creating off-street parking, planting trees or bulbs or gating alleyways.
In short anything that benefits the tenants of this area (because the money is coming from the money collected from tenants'
rents).
In a break with past practice, Carrie Harper in Queensway and Marc Jones in Whitegate are opening up these funds and
inviting groups of tenants to come up with ideas and suggestions to improve their estates.
There will be a pot of £15,000 for each ward to be used for these improvements.
If this pilot is successful, we would like to see more council money allocated this way by involving the community fully
in the decision-making processes.
Wrexham council is often seen as too remote from the people and we want to change that so that the people take ownership of their estates, their council and their money.
If you're a tenant and you've got some bright ideas to make your area a better place - get in touch by e-mailing plaidwrecsam@gmail.com.

How would you spend £3 million in Caia Park?

This is taken from a Plaid Cymru newsletter being delivered to all 5,000 homes in the five wards of Caia Park.

Last year four organisations that operate in Caia Park had an income of £3m - that's money on top of county council and Assembly spending on our schools, social services, housing, health and roads.

The money went to the following organisations:
£937,000 Caia Park Communities First
£477,000 The Venture (including funding from Communities First)
£250,000 Caia Park Community Council
(incl funding for the Venture and Caia Park Partnership)
£1,330,000 Caia Park Partnership
(including funding from Communities First)

£2,994,000 TOTAL (2007-8)

This is the more than £500 for every household in Caia.

Some of this money goes on excellent projects that help people in Caia Park - providing play and other facilities in The Venture, day care for the elderly in Deva House and nursery facilities in Sparkles. There are other valuable projects
that also benefit the community.

But these only account for some of the £3m listed above. Much more is spent on duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy.
For example Communities First had a budget of £937,000 in the year 2006-7. Of this, £453,000 was forwarded straight to other projects (such as The Venture and Caia Park Partnership).

A further £331,000 was spent on administrative expenses. So an administration costing a third of a million pounds oversees the remaining £153,000 budget.

The aim of Communities First is to empower local people, to create work and training opportunities in an area of real need. It's received £4.5m since it was established in 2002.

We want to see this money spent in Caia Park according to local people's wishes and needs.

Plaid Cymru's Caia Park branch sends out this friendly challenge to these organisations - ask the people what they want and see if the money can go further to achieve what's needed.

To the people funding these organisations - whether Welsh Assembly Government or local council - we ask that they look at the books and assess whether the outcomes match the money being spent.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Call to 'open the books' over MPs' expenses

What a great victory it was for grass roots politics when the internet garnered thousands of people to oppose the Government's secretive and underhanded attempt to exempt MP's and Peers expenses from public scrutiny and the Freedom of Information Act. Can't wait to see Ian Lucas's and Martyn Jones. Anyone who is interested in open and transparent government need to link up to mysociety.com and theyworkforyou.com and start campaigning and finding out what your elected representative do and whether they are there for the 'jollies' the 'freebies' or the 'gravy train' Following is a Press Release:

MPs' expense claims should be open for all to see, according to a Plaid Cymru Parliamentary candidate.

Councillor Arfon Jones, Plaid's candidate for Wrexham at the next General Election, said MPs should face the same scrutiny as Welsh Assembly Members, who have to account for all their spending.

He welcomed the Government climbdown on the matter after MPs attempted to keep their expenses secret from campaigners and the general public. Cllr Jones added:

"It was fortunate for open government and transparency that Freedom of Information internet campaigners launched a massive lobby which forced the Government into an u-turn. I congratulate the campaigners of mysociety.com and others on this very succesful campaign which just shows what people power can achieve."It was the thousands of people who lobbied their MPs that succeeded in forcing the Government into this humiliating U-turn."

Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly already declare their expenses but MPs and Peers have been forceful in their resistance to the public finding out about their lifestyles. Cllr Jones said:

“It is a disgrace that MPs and Peers are refusing to be accountable to their electors. We've seen abuses of the system exposed by transparency in the Assembly, notably the Tory leader's iPod bought with public money. It would seem that the MPs resistance means that they have something to hide and we need to know. It's time to open the books.”

Cllr Jones has also raised the matter of allowing the public access to the expenses of Wrexham councillors with both the Chief Executive and the Leader. Cllr Jones said:

"In the interests of openess and transparency it is essential that the public knows where public money goes to and the more open we are, the more likely the public is to engage with politicians and trust elected representatives. We should publish our expenses and attendance record on the council website for all to see just like councillors in Conwy do.”

Cllr Jones said he was also concerned about whether Community Councils were transparent enough. He said:

"The Code of Conduct applies to Community Councils but how many Community Councillors declare personal interests or make declarations of gifts if they have received any personal benefit? In my experience this is an area of accountability that has considerable room for improvement."

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Daily Post

This will be my third letter I will have written as a Parliamentary candidate to the Daily Post so I am now taking bets on whether this letter will be published tomorrow. What do we do if its not...do we as prospective Parliamentary candidates not have things to say which are in the public interest...well it appears not. Its even worst in the North East of Wales as the Daily Post seems to have stopped reporting news...full stop. Their excuse is falling readership...well perhaps that has something to do with the quality of the paper. Anyway here's the letter:

Dear Editor,

Your report, "How much more is this going to cost us Gordon" (Daily Post, 20th January)
fails to mention two very important facts which is a measure of the Government's competancy in dealing with this financial crisis. Firstly, when the Government first bailed out the banks, including RBS, in the Autumn to the tune of £37 billion, did they not find RBS's £28 billion black hole which was announced yesterday. Secondly, the Government suspended a trading system known as short selling last year to prevent speculators profiting from falling share prices and undermining bank's liquidity, that ban on short selling was lifted last Thursday and since then banking shares have gone into freefall...was this a coincidence? I don't think so.

I believe that the ongoing crisis in the financial markets is a measure of the Government's incompetenece in that they are failing to regulate the Financial Services industry and who without regulation will not act in the public good. The sooner the Treasury Select Committee start investigating the role of short sellers in this crisis the better and I have no doubt their conclusions will make uncomfortable reading for Brown and Darling.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, 19 January 2009

Barclays Bank

Hedge Fund Managers who use a form of trading called 'short selling' were blamed for the near collapse of the Halifax Bank of Scotland Group (HBOS) which resulted in them being taken over by Lloyds TSB...and the Government. Following that deregulated fiasco the Bank of England banned financial institutions from 'short selling' banking and other shares due to the instability they caused and the likelihood that other banks would collapse because of short selling.

In their infinite wisdom the Government/Bank of England lifted that ban last Thursday and on Friday, RBS and Barclays shares go into freefall for Barclays it was down 25% on Friday and 10% today. Now I can't accept that this is a coincidence and the following is a letter I wrote to the Daily Post yesterday:

Dear Editor,

The collapse of Barclays shares when they lost 25% of their value last week raises serious concerns about this government's competence in financial management. It was Alex Salmond that called traders who profited from falls in company share prices, 'spivs and speculators' for causing the collapse of HBOS. The Government and the Financial Services Authority finally acted by banning traders from 'short selling' banking shares but that ban was recently lifted and what happens...financial shares collapse with Barclays suffering the most.

When will the Government learn that what the financial sector needs is more regulation to prevent the 'spivs and speculators' causing havoc with the lives and futures of people by contributing to the recession and unemployment that many hundreds of thousands of people are enduring. It is clear that the faceless Fund Managers who gamble away our futures cannot be trusted to act in the public good, so they must be regulated.

I personally am looking forward to the Treasury Select Committee's report on the impact of 'short selling' on the credit crunch...I am sure it will make uncomfortabale reading for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

Your sincerely,


NB - Short selling: Dealers profit from dealing on share prices falling by flooding the market
with shares thereby manipulating a fall in prices.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Wanted - a Welsh media

Wrecsam's finest journalist in exile has a pretty damning report here on the state of the Welsh media. The latest plans to merge the Daily Post and Western Mail's management teams seems to point to a merger of the only two daily morning papers serving Wales.
At first glance, a "Western Post" makes sense - the Western Mail mainly serves the South and the Daily Post mainly serves the North and they're both owned by the same company, Trinity Mirror. Except that Trinity Mirror has a history of cost-cutting by sacking journalists and is interested in the move as a cost-cutting exercise rather than increasing media coverage of Wales.
The lack of competition to the Trinity Mirror group (which also owns many Welsh weekly newspapers) impoverished the Welsh newspaper industry in the same way that ITV's steady demise is allowing the BBC to continue its monopoly on the radio and television news agenda.
The thriving online community in Wales has provided something of an alternative media but it's far from a mass media - what's needed is a national newspaper for Wales with the clout of The Scotsman, for example. A quality tabloid would also be good but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Young Savers urge to get the Credit Union habit.

I have long been an ardent supporter of the Credit Union movement and have been a member for nearly 20 years so the other day both myself, Cllrs Carrie Harper and Marc Jones joined the Wrexham County Borough Credit Union and we hope to encourage others to join. Anyone who lives and works within the County Borough can join. At the moment there are 350 members but if we are to make a difference to people's lives by providing them with low cost loans, then we need many more members to contribute. The Credit Union isn't only for people who wish to take loans there must also be savers and to encourage savers the Credit Union will pay a competitive rate of interest or dividend. Following our visit we prepared the following press release:

Youngsters in Wrexham's schools are being encouraged to get saving through the town's credit union. Plaid Cymru's Wrexham candidate at the next Westminster election Arfon Jones said: "The Junior Savers scheme run by the credit union is a great way for young savers to get into the habit of saving regularly. As part of our efforts to reduce child poverty within the County Borough I will be encouraging all the Secondary Schools to establish savings schemes in conjunction with the Credit Union. We need to provide children and young people with the skills to manage their own money and to avoid the multitude of problems associated with debt."
Arfon Jones, who is also a County Councillor in Gwersyllt and Lead Member for Children and Young People, was speaking as he joined the credit union at its office in Chester Street.
The credit union is able to offer instant loans at reasonable rates as well as providing a competitive dividend for savers compared to commercial rates of interest. Savers have recently enjoyed a 3% dividend, which is better than most instant access accounts in the high street banks.
Cllr Jones was for many years secretary of the Caia Park Credit Union as well as a founding member and Secretary of the North Wales Police Credit Union. He added: "I've been a consistent supporter of the credit union movement and it's great to see the credit union gaining members now that the credit crunch is really starting to bite. I would encourage everyone who lives or works within the County Borough to join and save with their Credit Union."

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Protest against Israeli invasion


This Saturday at mid-day, we aim to make the protest in Wrexham bigger and better. And warmer. Come and join us!
Please bring you banners and placards to show your opposition to the targetting of an entire population by the Israeli war machine.



Prince Harry's Racist Comments

The following is a letter which I have today sent to the Daily Post and the Evening Leader.

Dear Editor,

Politicians and others are right to condemn Prince Harry's comments about 'Pakis' and 'Ragheads' (Harry 'unacceptable', Daily Post, January 13th), the words are well known as being offensive and unacceptable and what sort of message does it send out to minority groups by the third in line as Head of State not to mention to those who see him as a 'role model'.

Such behaviour is not tolerated within the public services and particularly not the Police Service where such behaviour would have in all probability resulted in a requirement to resign. One therefore wonders what action the Ministry of Defence will take against Prince Harry, will they as a minimum discipline him?

Yours sincerely,


Will he be treated differently to the rest of us?...Comments!!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Democracy - Labour style.

There is a vacancy on Gwersyllt Community Council following the resignation of a Labour member after only 8 months out of 4 years...begs the question why stand in the first place. Anyway notices are about to be published for nominations...but Labour have already decided what will happen...they don't expect any nominations so they can co opt their man who is no one less than the Labour party candidate who was DEFEATED at the May elections and he doesn't even live in the ward where the vacancy is. Unless someone stands for election they will have their own way because they have an ever so slight majority on the Community Council (12 out of 17 are Labour). On the other hand if a candidate puts up against them they will just turn round and accuse their opponents of wasting Community Council money (it will probably cost a £1000 to run an election)...but they forget that it was their councillor who resigned in the first place.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Wrexham protests against Israeli invasion of Gaza


More than 70 people braved sub-zero temperatures in Wrexham today to protest against the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

The last-minute protest organised by Wrexham Peace and Justice Forums heard from Steve Ryan, of the PCS union, and Elfed ap Nefydd, a local peace activist.

Councillor Marc Jones, of Plaid Cymru, chaired the meeting and also read out messages of solidarity from Jill Evans MEP and Janet Ryder, the North Wales AM. They were united in seeking an end to the violence on both sides, calling the 800 deaths suffered in the invasion so far totally disproportionate.

The crowd heard how the Gaza strip is smaller than Wrexham borough but holds 1.5 million people, currently living in appalling conditions due to a three-year blockade by Israel. Three quarters do not have electricity and many do not have clean drinking water.

Steve Ryan urged Wrexham people to join a boycott of Israeli goods including fruit, vegetables and herbs. More than half Israel's exports are to the UK and many are available in local supermarkets. Some activists went on from the protest to make their opposition to Israeli goods being sold locally known outside supermarkets.

Further action to highlight the sale of Israeli goods will take place later this week and another, bigger protest in Queens Square could take place next Saturday depending on the ongoing situation.

For the latest information go to wpjf.org.uk/ or phone 01978 366 735.

ENDS

Public Consultation and the Council Budget.

At a recent meeting of the Council's Finance and Performance Scrutiny Committee members received and recommended a report on the 2009/10 budget, without complicating matters it is sufficient to say that we will be able to provide a balanced budget without cutting services for an increase in council tax of 3%...this however is not finalised yet, it can only be agreed by Full Council meeting next month. The Council did consult publicly on the budget by including a consultation questionairre in the last edition of Connect which was delivered to all 55,000 homes in the County Borough but it was disappointing to learn that only 100 questionairres had been returned...and this on such an important issues. It doesn't seem to matter how hard the Council tries to get the public to contribute to the debate on how their money should be spent and other important issues, there seems to be a great deal of indifference and reluctance to engage. I believe there is both a role for elected members and political parties here to encourage their electors/supporters to engage in these consultation exercises. Hopefully next Monday's worshop on Communications might provide us with some ideas on how we as elected members can engage more effectively with those that we represent. Feel free to make suggestions........