Friday, 27 February 2009

Majority back Welsh parliament

Support for a Welsh Parliament is growing, according to a new BBC opinion poll.

More than half of people in Wales would vote for the Welsh assembly to have full law-making powers, according to an exclusive BBC Wales/ICM poll.
A total of 52% said they would vote for full law-making powers in a referendum, 39% said they would vote against.
It is the first time a poll has shown majority support for full powers.
But it does not indicate the shift of opinion in favour of further devolution is likely to be enough to tempt political leaders to call a referendum.

In favour of turning assembly into full law-making parliament: 52%
Against turning assembly into full law-making parliament: 39%
Don't know: 9%

Source: BBC Wales/ICM poll

In an equivalent poll for the BBC a year ago, 49% of people were in favour of full assembly law-making powers, with 42% against and 9% undecided.
In 2007, the result was 47% for full law-making powers and 44% against.
In this latest survey, when people were asked how Wales should be governed, the highest proportion, 34%, said they would like to see a full law-making Welsh parliament with taxation powers, but remaining part of the UK.
Some 10% said they would like a full law-making parliament within the UK with no taxation powers - the only option in a referendum under current legislation.

Law-making Welsh parliament with tax powers in UK: 34%
Law-making Welsh parliament with no tax powers in UK: 10%
Independent Wales outside UK but in EU: 8%
Independent Wales outside UK and EU: 5%
Status quo: 21%
Abolish assembly 19%
Don't know: 4%

Source: BBC Wales/ICM poll

The gap between yes and no voters has grown from 7% to 13% in the past year without any campaigning from pro-devolutionary forces - it seems like a good time to be pushing the case for a referendum. If we don't get one before the Tories come to power, can we really expect Cameron to deliver?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The role of an opposition party

Opposition parties have an important function in any democracy - to act as responsible guardians of good practice and fair play.

Tonight Wrexham Council saw the ruling coalition (which includes Plaid) put forward a budget negotiated over several months in difficult circumstances. It meant no cuts in education budgets and no redundancies.

The Labour opposition proposed two amendments - both contradicting themselves. One would have seen the budgets for key social services and other services cut to protect teachers. Worse, the budget amendment was uncosted and had been left to the last minute instead of being discussed with the relevant officer - point scoring and political game playing of the worst order.

After an hour's debate Labour realised its amendments were untenable and withdrew them.

To make matters worse, the vote on the budget saw the Labour group split. Labour wasted valuable time debating uncosted and unaccountable budgets. You have to wonder what is the point of an opposition party that is so clueless and uncoordinated.

PS Labour's other contribution to the evening was to suggest that Special Responsibility Allowances were cut by 50%. The resolution might have stood more chance of passing if it wasn't seen as Labour spite for seeing their own personal allowances cut last year because they wouldn't take on those special responsibilities. Labour were advocating a cut in other people's pay while maintaining their own allowances. As it was, councillors voted for a freeze on personal allowance and voted down Labour's gimmick.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Burglaries on the increase!

In an article in the Daily Post on the 21st February 2009, Inspector Paul Firth the Community Safety Inspector Wrecsam and Flintshire released figures that showed that burglaries had increased 25% on 12 months ago. Inspector Firth tried to justify this increase in crime by linking in to the economic recession.

THe following is a letter which I sent and which was published in the Daily Post today:

Dear Sir,

So the North Wales Police ‘good news story’ of a decline in the number of crimes is over (Credit Crunch Crimewave, Post, Feb 21), where it is reported that the number of burglaries is up 25% on the same period last year. What is interesting though is the ease with which this increase is attributed to the credit crunch and the economic downturn; where is his evidence to support this assertion? I would suggest that to attribute this increase to a recession that only started half way through the year is pure ‘spin.’

Regular readers of this column will recall several articles over the years quoting the Deputy Chief Constable Clive Wolfendale trumpeting North Wales Police’s success in reducing crime because of ‘innovative policing strategies,’ there was no mention then that the reduction was due to an economic boom so why should we assume that an increase in crime now is down to the economic downturn. If we turn Mr Wolfendale’s assertions on its head we could assume that an increase in crime could be attributable to a failure of policing initiatives.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ethnic Cleansing

Yes that's what a Cardiff Labour Councillor who works for Rhodri Morgan describes efforts by Cardiff City Council to meet parents demands for increased Welsh language provision. This is over a potential decision to close/move Lansdowne School in Cardiff and move the Welsh Medium School, Ysgol Treganna to its location. As Lansdowne School is 50/50 white/ethnic, Councillor Patel considers this decision to be 'ethnic cleansing.' His boss however condemns his comments but there again describes the situation as 'polarisation,' which isn't much better.

This sort of comments isn't restricted to the Labour Party in Cardiff but our local Labour party holds similar views. I recall some months ago when the provision of Welsh Medium Education was discussed that one leading Labour County Councillor described the policy as, 'language apartheid' and 'segregation'...strong and emotive words which makes me think whether the Labour Party in Wales have an unwritten policy to link the Welsh language to race and diversity in order to create tensions and attempt to discredit others who support parental choice in education.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Ian Lucas - Whiter than white!!

Last week in his column to the Wrexham Chronicle, Ian Lucas writes critically about the members of the House of Lords demanding cash for changing legislation. He goes on to say that he only does Parliamentary work as he has no time for other work. This assertion from Lucas is not quite true as the following letter I sent to the Chronicle (and which was published),demonstrates:

Dear Editor,

I must take issue with Ian Lucas in his recent letter, "Lords allegations are shocking" (Chronicle, February 5th) where he reassures us that he has no time for work other than his parliamentary work. Perhaps Mr Lucas can therefore clarify his exact role, paid or otherwise when he represented Trevor Rees Jones at the inquest of Diana the Princess of Wales at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. This incidentally was the same day that thousands of Police Officers were marching in London including many from Mr Lucas's own constituency; but as we now know Mr Lucas was too busy doing non parliamentary work that day to meet those officers. It therefore appears that Mr Lucas is not quite as committed to his parliamentary work as he would like us to believe, its more of a question of, "Do as I say not as I do."

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Concern over 'creeping privatisation' of public services in Wales

Plaid has written to the Wrecsam Council's chief executive Isobel Garner seeking reassurances that a feasibility study by BT to look at "agile working" is not privatisation through the back door.

It is claimed that agile working is about staff working from home, mobile working and hot desking and better use of buildings and resources. BT has been engaged by Flintshire Council, along with Wrecsam and Denbighshire councils, to look at how the councils work.

Plaid Cymru councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam Arfon Jones has now written to Isobel Garner raising his party's concerns about the long-term implications of this, fear which are shared by council workers.

Councillor Jones said: "Both ourselves in Plaid Cymru and the Public Service Unions in Wales are concerned at BT's involvement in this project. We think that it is a way for them to get a foot in the door and get an advantage when it comes to future public-private partnerships, which is nothing but privatisation by another name."

Councillor Jones added: "We need to get away from this Thatcherite/Nu Labour belief that 'private is good, public is bad' mentality. It is not the case - there are examples of councils bringing services back in-house because it is more cost effective than outsourcing or privatising.

"Even the Government's own National Audit Office have reported that two out of three Public Private Partnerships established to deliver council services fail."

UPDATE: Welsh Labour Grassroots, a left-wing pressure group, shares our concerns about privatisation.

Broadcast council meetings live on the web - Plaid

Wrecsam Council meetings that are open to the public should be broadcast live on the authority's website. That's the view of Plaid Cymru councillors who have requested the move due to concerns about the lack of public engagement between the council and local people.

Plaid Councillor Carrie Harper, who represents Queensway ward, said: "We need openness, transparency and accountability within local government and for the decisions to be open to the scrutiny of the wider public. We want local people to see how the council works.

"Since being elected I have heard many people express concern that the council is too remote. Putting debates on the internet, and having an online archive could see their councillors in action, would create the opportunity for more direct engagement. More and more people are getting internet access so it's one way to improve our local democracy."

Cllr Harper, who was backed by her three Plaid colleagues, added: "It would also give people the opportunity to send in their views after watching debates and to become more involved in the democratic process. I think it's essential that the people of Wrecsam can see that the council are actually accountable to them. Council officers are employed by the people of Wrecsam and we as councillors are elected by the people of Wrecsam, it is only right that the public can see what goes on especially after a series of controversial recommendations made by committees in Wrecsam Council."

"Greater public scrutiny of council meetings will also hopefully increase member involvement and enhance debate, something that has been sadly lacking in some meetings recently."

Councillor Arfon Jones, Plaid's councillor for Gwersyllt West, added: "We need this innovative idea to increase engagement between the council and the public. We need to encourage the public to involve themselves with the council's business. At the moment this is not happening. For example, only 100 people responded to the consultation exercise on this year's £200 million budget and this out of a population of 132,000 people.

"In addition to our calls for these broadcasting meetings, we have also asked that councillors' attendance records are made available online and also that any Freedom of Information requests are available to view."

Wrecsam Council are currently considering the request and Plaid Cymru is hopeful that, due to the ease of access and low cost of the technology required, it can be up and running in the near future.