Wednesday, 30 September 2009

NUJ condemns Trinity Mirror share 'handouts' to executives

The National Union of Journalists is balloting members over the loss of 15 jobs at three weekly Welsh newspapers, including the Wrexham Chronicle.

The company closing the papers, Trinity Mirror, is the largest newspaper firm in Wales and has made huge share payments to executives earlier this year.

Trinity Mirror publishes both Welsh morning papers, the Western Mail and Daily Post, as well as Wales on Sunday. It also produces a large amount of the country's weekly newspapers - e.g. the North Wales Weekly News, Rhyl Advertiser, Mold and Buckley Chronicle and Holyhead and Anglesey Mail.

The NUJ is now balloting for strike action in defence of jobs and has questioned share 'handouts' to just three executives worth over £800,000 in total.

"It beggars belief that at a time when these directors have been slashing jobs and freezing the pay of those left behind, they have been rewarded so handsomely in this way," said Martin Shipton, NUJ father of chapel at Media Wales.

He said it was unacceptable that the payments had not been publicised when a pay freeze and bonus cut at the company's Media Wales division was announced in November 2008.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Big building firms collude to con councils

News that big building firms have worked together to con councils and other public bodies in England is a matter for real concern.

Construction workers' unions demanded "zero tolerance" for lawless bosses on Tuesday after building firms were exposed ripping off taxpayers' cash in a massive price-fixing scam.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) revealed that huge construction firms Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Connaught were among the 103 companies that were found to have colluded with each other in a virtual cartel to illegally "rig bids" on building contracts.

The price-fixing scam meant that firms inflated the cost of the contracts, which included construction work on schools, hospitals and social housing, through a practice known as "cover pricing."

Executives would collude with each other to make high and unattractive bids for the work to ensure that contracts were given to their co-conspirators - some of whom then passed backhanders worth as much as £60,000 to the losing bidder as "compensation."

OFT investigator Stephen Blake suggested that the 100 firms caught so far - to be fined almost £130 million between them - were just the tip of the iceberg.

Mr Blake confessed: "To find that this illegal activity was endemic within the industry came as a surprise to us and the evidence suggests the practice was much more widespread."

But industry bosses' union UK Construction Group director Stephen Radcliffe mocked the government's investigation, boasting that "everybody knows, including the OFT, cover pricing was widespread - it is hardly the crime of the century.

"And it is perverse and unfair to impose disproportionate penalties on a small number of contractors," he protested.

This latest scandal to hit construction bosses comes after executives at many of the same firms exposed by the OFT were also found to have been blacklisting union activists.

Building workers' union UCATT leader Alan Ritchie pointed out: "It is ironic that bosses have received multimillion-pound fines for cover pricing, while they were let off with a slap on the wrist following the blacklisting scandal, which has ruined workers' lives.

"It is clear that construction companies can't be trusted to run their affairs properly and can't be trusted to police themselves and these scandals demonstrate that a zero-tolerance approach must now be taken to ensure that companies follow the law," he insisted.

"Because, if companies are prepared to corrupt the bidding process for public-sector contracts, what else are they prepared to sanction in the quest for profits?" Mr Ritchie (pictured) asked.


Any company caught and fined for such activity should be banned from working for local authorities and their fines handed directly to the councils that lost money.

The scale of the scandal means that every council - including those in Wales - needs to look again at its costs, especially in these times of belt tightening.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Prison shock for Caernarfon

The shock decision not to site the proposed North Wales prison in Caernarfon is a huge blow to the local economy of that area. It's also an indictment of the way the UK government makes its decisions - presumably content to bring the project to what it saw as a Labour marginal without consulting or informing the local population.
Now the seat appears beyond the grasp of the party, which hasn't even selected a candidate to fight the Westminster election, Peter Hain is touting the idea of a new prison around every marginal in the area. Ynys Môn is the latest target, where Albert Owen will struggle to keep his seat from a strong Plaid challenge.
By the same token, how long before he turns up in Wrecsam?
The idea of a prison is opposed by local Labour MP Ian Lucas.
I support the idea of a prison on a suitable location locally on the following grounds:

• Wrecsam needs work and this will provide 600 relatively well-paid full-time jobs;
• Construction will provide work for hundreds of builders;
• Prisoners will be housed closer to home in a bilingual prison;
• Families from across the north will have less to travel, with particular advantages to families from the Wrecsam area. Punishing offenders is one thing, we shouldn't also punish their kids and families.

As long as there are offenders being sent to jail from this area, we need a prison for them. In an ideal world there should be no need to lock up so many people - many end up in prison for not paying for their TV licence - but until then let's have the prison in Wrecsam.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Wrexham Chronicle and plurality of the media

The Wrexham Chronicle only lasted 15 months before Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Post and Daily Mirror amongst many other papers, decided to swing the axe.
The freesheet never set the world on fire but was an alternative to the Leader stable in Wrecsam and, as such, added something to our local media.
The reduced presence of the BBC in Wrecsam, coupled with the closure of the town's office by ITV Wales, means that the Daily Post and Leader will now slug it out for news. Despite the best efforts of individual reporters, often working to tight deadlines, the amount of news coverage is reducing and the amount of feature- or opinion-led coverage increasing.
Can the internet fill the gap? Yes in terms of immediacy and sharpness of opinion but all too often not in terms of accuracy, research and factual content.
Whether content can improve to match the widening of people's bandwidth remains to be seen.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Labour loser does the full Montgomery

Labour has never won the Montgomery parliamentary seat and it's unlikely that the selection of a failed councillor with no connection with the seat will change that sorry record.

Nick Colborne, the former councillor for Ruabon, struggled to come last in a three-horse race in May 2008 that saw Plaid take the seat for the very first time. Perhaps it's an omen Heledd!

Still, at least Labour has chosen its candidate in that seat. The once rock-solid seat of Clwyd South is still without a candidate just months before the General Election.

Remembering the Gresford Disaster 1934

On 22nd September it will be the 75th anniversary of the Gresford mining disaster, when 266 men lost their lives in the colliery. The siren at Wrecsam museum will be sounded for two minutes and there will be a public service of remembrance at the Gresford memorial on Tuesday.

Looking through list of those who died that day, the street names jump out at you: Lorne St, Vernon St, Bradley Road in town as well as addresses in every village from Rhos and Ruabon through Coedpoeth, Summerhill, Gwersyllt and Gresford itself.

Five men in Lorne Street, Rhosddu, alone died in the disaster.

A detailed book by Stanley Williamson analyses the disaster and Wrecsam Council has put together some useful pages detailing the history.

From the evidence to hand, there's no doubt the colliery owners buried the truth along with the 266 bodies they left below ground. The £544,000 collected for the miners' families in an age of great hardships was also mishandled by the authorities and it took the forensic skills of Stafford Cripps, a socialist lawyer who later served in the 1945-51 Labour government, to get at the truth in a public inquiry.

It wasn't the worst mining disaster in history, it wasn't even the worst mining disaster in Wales - Senghennydd has that dubious privilege. But, thanks to the efforts of a small group of people, it lives on in the North Wales coalfield, where 800 children lost their fathers in a single day and where whole communities knew the real price of coal.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Bosses putting profit before people

Two stories in the Welsh press concerning job losses in the north caught my eye.

Firstly, the workers' march in protest at Anglesey Aluminium's closure at Holyhead, despite government offers of £48m bailout to the multinational firm's owners.

Speaking at the march, Graham Rogers of Unite put over the problem very succinctly: "This is a clear case of a multinational company putting profit before people."

How many times has that happened as companies relocate to maximise profits, abandoning communities to their fate?

Secondly, the criminal deception by three slate quarry bosses that led to the loss of 136 jobs at Penrhyn quarry.

The only noteworthy thing about this is that the bosses did go to prison. No bankers have paid a similar price for their criminal negligence - in most cases, a reduction in lavish bonuses or extortionate pension schemes is all that's happened.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Nice One Cyril!

That was the headline to an article in Wrexham Chronicle this week and refers to the 90th birthday of the well known Wrecsam Solicitors, Cyril Jones & Co. Present at the celebrations was our one and only Ian Lucas who was also a solicitor before he joined the gravy train in 2001. There however ends any similarity between them. Cyril Jones the founder was a socialist, a strong advocate for the poor, he represented the families of the victims of the Gresford disaster and was also a staunch advocate of Welsh independence and a passionate Welshman and Welsh speaker. Ian Lucas as the staunch British Unionist that he is can claim none of Cyril Jones's qualities and this article is another attempt at bolstering his collapsing support in what used to be in Cyril Jones's day, 'rock solid OLD Labour seat,' but not anymore.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Morons.

A Plaid Cymru member was walking along King Street, Wrecsam, with his wife the other day, they were showing members of their family who were over from Canada around Wrecsam. They were speaking in their native language when they were told by some morons to speak English. Needless to say they were shocked as I'm sure we all are that such attitudes remain towards the language. But hang on who said anything about Welsh?, the Plaid member was in fact speaking his native tongue, Hungarian. Yes he's been in this country since 1956 and a long standing member of our branch. It just goes to show the appeal the party has to non Welsh as well as Welsh speakers. Don't suppose there's any marks for guessing which party the morons support is there!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Perplexed by Gordon Brown

Sat watching the news tonight and listening to Gordon Brown address the TUC Conference I sat up shocked when he said there will be cuts in spending but they won't happen until the recovery starts and even then they won't affect front line services, to which I say b.......!! Its already happening to front line services in Wales.

As Lead Member for Childrens Social Services for Wrecsam, this is the situation here:
As at June/July this year the number of Child Protection/Child in Need referrals to Social Services has increased by 88% for the same period the previous year. The numbers on the Child Protection Register are up 40% on the previous year. The number of children that are looked after were up by 17 and the cost of each one of those children per annum was £29,000, which makes a total cost of £500,000. In 2008/09 the Children's Social Services budget was overspent by over £750,000 and that was before the upsurge in demand.

In the circumstances you would expect a possible base budget realignment wouldn't you, especially as the budget for Looked after children has been overspent by an increasing amount over the last 3 years. Next year Children Social Services have to find 3% savings or £300,000 which with the overspend equates to a £Million or 1.25% on a Band D Council Tax.

Apart from raising Council tax what else can we do about it? The answer to me is quite obvious and that is to get the Local Health Board to pay their share. Every year about 15 children are looked after because of serious disabilities and their families cannot cope with the children. The following is an example of the contributions, Wrecsam CBC - £215,000, Wrecsam LHB - £34,000. You can imagine what I had to say when a leading AM suggested that Social Care should go over to Health...I was in a public meeting so I didn't swear; but I did say that that was akin to 'jumping from the frying pan into the fire.' I can't really see the creation of one NHS Trust across North Wales doing anything other than exacberate a bad situation when it comes to funding continuing care for children with disabilities.

Now that I have had my rant, I would say to Messrs Brown and Darling, the cuts have already started...and yes they are affecting frontline services, what else do you expect when you will be cutting £500 million from the block grant to the Assembly next year...doh!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Rhwydweithio.

Braf ydy cael mynd i'r Gynhadledd i rwydweithio gyda'm cyd Gynghorwyr ar draws Cymru. A ninnau yn un o drefi mwya gogleddol Cymru y disgwyliad fasa i fi rwydweithio mwy gyda fy gyd Gynghorwyr o'r Gogledd ond y gwir oedd mae gyda fy nghyd Gynghorwyr o Gaerffili, Sir Gar, Castellnedd a Chaerdydd y oeddwn fwya cybyddus a hwy. Er fy mod wedi gweld a siarad hefo amal i Gynghorwr o siroedd y Gogledd, bach iawn oedd ei rhifau. Hwyrach ei bod yn amser i ni newid ein rheolau mewnol fel fod disgwyl i Gynghorwyr Plaid Cymru ddangos mwy o gefnogaeth ac ymroddiad tuag ein agenda genedlaethol ac i gefnogi a dangos ymroddiad i'r Gynhadledd. Dwi ddim am enwi enwau ond mi ryda chi'n gwybod pwy yda chi!

A truly inclusive party!

There were some interesting quotes by some influential politicians at Plaid Cymru's conference:

Ron Davies in a Plaid workshop on Thursday..."WE"

IWJ's speech to conference on Friday..."We on the left" not words normally associated with "a county solicitor."

Adam Price's address on Saturday..."Conservatives with a small c" referring to the acceptability of David Melding and his small c conservatism.

Dafydd Iwan's closing speech...can't remember the exact words but praise for Ron Davies.

So we are ideologically still a broad based party then? MOF/HRF and Cynical Dragon will be pleased.

Celtic bloc

Just back from the Plaid annual conference in sunny Llandudno and much more to be posted on events over the next few days. All four Wrecsam councillors were in attendance as were a number of other activists from the area, including some of our newer members. Everyone had a good time amid all the debating and discussion.

One interesting contribution from the SNP's Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson MP, was the need for a strong progressive bloc of SNP and Plaid MPs.

He said that such a "Celtic bloc" at Westminster could protect Scotland and Wales from the spending cuts which both Conservative and Labour Governments would inflict.

Mr Robertson said: “Both the Tory and Labour Parties are following a cuts agenda. In Wales and Scotland the only protection is a strong Plaid Cymru and a strong SNP - the only parties that always stand for Wales and Scotland.

“At the next Westminster election we need to elect a record number of Plaid and SNP MPs to form a Celtic Bloc, a block on cuts and services like the NHS, a block on financial attacks to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Governments and strong force in Parliament that stands up for the real priorities of people in Wales and Scotland."

Scottish polls suggest the SNP is on course to win 25 seats. Plaid can double its seats at the next election - a group of more than 30 seats will be significant if there is a hung Parliament in London.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Plaid councillors condemn Eagles Meadow developer over affordable housing

Part of the deal between Wrecsam Council and the Eagles Meadow developers was to provide some affordable housing. The developers therefore paid for eight flats to be refurbished in Deva Way and also promised to renovate four flats above shops by the entrance to the shopping development.

At this week's planning committee, the developers tried to renege on that agreement. They said renovating the flats would cost too much and, instead of their original commitment, offered the council £20,000 as a one-off payment.

This did not go down well with councillors.

Plaid Cymru councillor Marc Jones, who sits on the planning committee, said:
"The money being offered is an insult and will mean there are four fewer affordable homes for people locally. It's regrettable that officers seem willing to bend over backwards for developers, who are talking in millions but seem unable to contribute a tiny part of that for much-needed affordable housing."


The decision was deferred for a month for further investigation but Plaid councillors are insisting that the original agreement is maintained, with four affordable homes or their equivalent being provided by the developer.

Cllr Jones added:
"Few people will have sympathy with the developer pleading poverty on this matter. A deal is a deal and a providing four flats is hardly going to break the bank."

Monday, 7 September 2009

Attendance Allowance Cuts will affect thousands of pensioners.

Plans by the UK government to scrap Attendance Allowance would affect thousands of elderly people in Wrecsam, Plaid Cymru has discovered.

Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones has expressed concern over the Government’s Green Paper to scrap Attendance Allowance and include it into a grant to local authorities to pay for social care. The change would afffect more than 4,000 people in Wrecsam alone and more than 100,000 throughout Wales.

Attendance Allowance is a non-means tested benefit paid to over 65s and is paid to those who need care and supervision due to illness or disability. There are two rates the highest rate is currently £70.35 a week and the lower rate is £47.10.

Councillor Arfon Jones, who is also the Plaid Cymru prospective parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, said:
“There is a danger that those older people who are eligible for Attendance Allowance but not Social Care are likely to lose out. We already know that our older people receive less pension and other benefits than others in Europe, this will only make their situation worse.”


He added that providing extra social care is important but
"finding the funding from benefits being paid to pensioners is robbing Peter to pay Paul - it is not the answer."


Cllr Jones added:
“This will increase poverty and deprivation amongst the elderly who have moderate disabilities and it will reduce their independence and choice on how they choose to spend their disability benefits. If this proposal goes ahead it will increase considerably the number of people that Local Authorities will have to care for.”


Cllr Jones said the situation in Wales is blurred and confused, there has already been a consultation in Wales - Paying for Care - and there has been the Wanless Report in England on which the Green Paper is based. He said:
"The question needs to be asked what happens if Wales decided on a different way to pay for care as it is their right as social care is a devolved matter. On the other hand welfare benefits is a Westminster responsibility and the Welsh Assembly Government has no say over it.

"Welsh pensioners deserve clarity on this matter and that means having devolved control of the system rather than the current piecemeal situation."

Friday, 4 September 2009

Black v Franks!

Who do we believe Peter Black or Chris Franks? Chris says that he opposed the Assembly Commission's decision to cease producing a Welsh translation of proceedings but Peter says it was unanimous. It can't be that difficult to recall how five people voted surely! And what about the minutes of the Commission meeting. I wonder what Lord Elis Thomas's recollection is like?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tories...slow off the mark...again!!

Where have Paul Rogers and Dylan Jones Evans been with their blogs challenging whether unemployment in Wales is up or down? These figures were challenged on this blog 3 weeks ago, here, here and here. It is however disingenious of the two Tories to blame the One Wales coalition for these figures as neither the Department of Work and Pensions or the HMRC who produce these figures are devolved responsibilities. It is the Westminster Government who define Economically Active and Inactive and who constantly redefine these terms to serve their own purposes and to make comparing data virtually impossible. Now I have a pretty good recollection of the Thatcher Government and I'm sure that her government redefined terms around unemployment so as to reduce the total numbers...being sick looks better than unemployed doesn't it. The Tories are past masters at hiding bad news by spinning the statistics and the professor knows that very well.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The lights are on, but is anyone at home?

It seems some Tories in Wales have been kept in the dark over what exactly their policy is on energy-saving light bulbs.

On the one hand new Tory MEP Kay Swinburne says she ‘had issues’ with banning the most inefficient bulbs, claiming it was an ‘environmental disaster’ despite the clear savings, both economically and environmentally, by switching to energy-saving light bulbs.

This opposition is in stark contrast to the Tories' 2007 manifesto commitment... to give every household in Wales £20 worth of energy-saving bulbs.

It’s not clear whether the Tories have changed their minds on this or whether their MEP was unaware of party policy, as she wasn’t living in Wales at the time the commitment was made, before the Assembly elections in 2007.

You wonder what the reaction will be when the Tory Assembly group leader finds that their MEP has joined his party’s Westminster MPs in creating their own policies. Maybe he'll blow a fuse...

Jill Evans has more on the subject.

A Nice Breakfast Story!!

The things some people will do for sexual gratification eh...stinking voyeurism!

A Maine man caught peering up at a girl from below an outhouse toilet seat four years ago stands accused of crawling into another pit toilet on White Mountain National Forest property in New Hampshire.
A federal affidavit indicates a 49-year-old man confessed to repeating his previous act on Memorial Day.
Federal agents sought the man out after a 9-year-old boy saw him climbing out of a toilet at the Hastings Campground. Two witnesses saw him walk away from the outhouse.
Forest Service special agent William Fors wrote that the man initially said he climbed into the waste-filled pit to retrieve a T-shirt. Four years ago, he said he was retrieving his wedding ring (Source AP/MSNBC)
.
Enjoy your breakfast.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Same old Tories!

Ran out of decent news websites to read tonight so I ended up reading the Mail Online and found this interesting little headline:
Don't use our name, Oxford University tells young Tories after race disgrace
Doesn't matter how hard David Cameron tries to convey to the public that they are now the multicultural party of tolerance and understanding someone somewhere reminds us that they haven't really changed. Oxford University must have produced hundreds of Tory alumni and the decision to disaffiliate the Oxford University Conservative Association and prohibit them from using Oxford University as part of their organisational name must have been particularly hard for the University to do. I wonder if Lady Thatcher and William Hague will continue as patron and Hon President of the Association? To read the full story go here

Farewell to the Evening Leader

So the Evening Leader is no more, replaced - as I hinted recently -by the Morning Leader.

Given the direction regional newspapers are taken generally, it's no surprise - the South Wales Evening Post has been printed overnight for more than a year now and others will follow.

The challenge of the internet as a source of news and entertainment is making it more and more difficult to sell newspapers of all kinds. This comment highlights the problem - even newspaper addicts like myself find we can do without buying a newspaper every day. That's a slippery slope to getting all information online - partly because it's quicker and cheaper, but also because it's more comprehensive and geared towards an individual's needs.

If, for example, I want to find out what's happening at Wrexham AFC, both on and off the field, the first point of call would always be Red Passion.

Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for the Leader. I remember as a kid when it first came out in 1973 and we were soon hooked as a family. I also spent four happy years working in the Mold HQ as a sub-editor in the early 1990s. Back then we'd still be working on the front page until about 11am whereas today the paper has already been printed and is on sale in the town centre by then. So deadlines have moved and there is less of today's news in the paper.

The key issue that no paper - from the Leader to Rupert Murdoch's stable of reactionary rags - has yet worked out is how to charge for the content on the web in the same way as they charge for a newspaper. By its nature, internet readership is more fragmented with some opting only for the news or sports sections or even just one specific story that can be e-mailed to friends and colleagues. Advertising is also migrating to the internet but to what extent will probably determine the fate of the local press.

For what it's worth, I think the best of the local press will overcome the internet and mobile phone challenge, just as they overcame radio, television and teletext in turn. It remains a convenient and relatively cheap way to access news - and you read a paper in the bath!

Blogwyr Rhyddfrydwyr Democrataidd.

Rhaid fi ddeud mae dim ond dau flog Rhyddfrydwyr Democrataidd Cymreig rydw i'n gybyddus a hwy, Peter Black a Freedom Central, hwyrach fod na fwy ond mae o'n deud lot fod blogiwr brwdfrydig fel y fi ddim yn ei hadnabod nhw. Ond beth bennyg mae Total Politics wedi cyhoeddi rhestr y 75 blog Rhyddfrydwyr Democrataidd, a mae Peter Black wedi cwympo o 7 i 18 a Freedom Central ar 23. Tybed a wneith Peter bwdu fel Paul Flynn a ceisio roi y bai ar bawb arall am ei gwymp?