Monday, 28 June 2010

Tories revisit "get on your bikes" fantasy

Tory Minister Iain Duncan-Smith's call for unemployed people to move to areas of greater employment raises a number of questions. The idea, if such a hare-brained scheme, merits the description is to allow council tenants to jump the housing queues in areas where they can allegedly get jobs.

So would a jobless council tenant from, say, Newcastle get extra housing points because he or she is jobless? Would people already on that housing list get extra points because they were also jobless? Who decides what are the areas of greater employment? Do these change?

The policy seems to have been draw up on the back of an extremely small fag packet and lacks any merit at all in dealing with the very real problem of unemployment. We currently offer some additional points for local connection with a ward or borough - that is now being thrown out of the window.

It also appears to be writing off swathes of the UK as areas where the unemployed will never find work - at a guess, that would be anywhere outside the S E of England.

Rather than concocting headline-grabbing ideas, perhaps the policy wonks and researchers could put their minds to developing an economic strategy that didn't have mass unemployment as its cornerstone.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Effective Scrutiny.

It is difficult to disagree with Peter Black for the need for effective scrutiny of public bodies that receive public monies and that it as true of S4C as any other body. It may well also be that S4C would be better scrutinised if it was devolved to the Welsh Government rather than remain under the auspices of the Department of Culture and Sport, however that assertion seems to be in some doubt given the National Assembly's poor record in scrutinising current public spending.

It seems that Peter Black needs to get his scrutinising priorities right, should S4C really be his priority with only a £100 million budget or should he concentrate on scrutinising the spending of the seven new Health Boards in remember the ones where 22 LHB's were amalgamated into 7 without the loss of a single job!! As Health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats perhaps he can tell us what scrutinising he has done as regards the hundreds of managers who remain in highly paid non existent jobs within these 7 Health Boards. I'm sure he'd find more savings from the Betsi Cadwalader's £1 BILLION budget than from S4C's £100 million budget.

Get your priorities right Peter and start saving some real money for the people of Wales!

Increasing the Number of MEP's.

I find reading James Clive-Matthews's NoseMonkey's EUtopia blog particulaly refreshing with his differing perspectives to the mainstream. Who else could put a positive spin on an increase of MEP's by 18 in the middle of a recession?

Letter to all public sector workers from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister


Dear Colleague,

First of all we want to thank you. Whether your job is nursing in a hospital, working in a government department, teaching our children or one of the other key roles in the public sector, you keep our country running. People who work in the public sector don’t get enough credit for what they do, so thank you.
As well as our thanks, we want to give you more trust and more responsibility. For years you’ve been undermined by targets and rules set from on high. Bit by bit we’re going to end that culture. We’ll set you free to use your professionalism, commitment and good ideas to make life better for everyone.

But let us be clear. The biggest challenge our country faces is dealing with our huge debts – and that means we have to reduce public spending. You will have heard in this week’s Budget that we have had to take difficult decisions on public sector salaries for the next two years, while taking steps to protect those on lower salaries. Like many private sector organisations, we have chosen to control salaries rather than see higher job losses. The more we can find savings, the more flexibility we will have to avoid job losses and wage cuts.

We want you to help us find those savings, so we can cut public spending in a way that is fair and responsible. You work on the frontline of public services. You know where things are working well, where the waste is, and where we can re-think things so that we get better services for less money.
So this is why we’re writing to you today. We’re asking you to go to this website – (web) - and tell us your ideas about getting more for less. Don’t hold back. Be innovative, be radical, challenge the way things are done. Every serious idea will be considered: by government departments, by the Treasury, by our teams in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office – and passed to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to make sure we don’t miss anything.

So please, play your part. Let us know your ideas. We’re all in this together – and we’ll get through this together to better days ahead.

Yours sincerely


Friday, 25 June 2010

PFI schemes will escape public sector cuts

The National Audit Office (i.e. for England) has warned that PFI schemes in the public sector will be ring-fenced, meaning that other public services will be hit all the harder by the ConDem cuts.
This story warns that some English NHS hospitals may have to cut patient care to ensure that companies running their hospitals get their contracts paid.
Patient services may have to be cut at hospitals run under controversial private finance initiatives, the National Audit Office has warned.
Dozens of NHS hospitals are run under PFI projects meaning a private company has built the hospital and may run some of its functions such as laundry, catering and maintenance. Local primary care trusts pay a fixed annual fee for their use.
However, even though health trusts are coming under increasing pressure to cut costs, they cannot reduce these payments to their private partners.
Instead, the National Audit Office has warned that they may be forced to cut patient services at PFI hospitals in order to try to save money.
Dr Mark Porter, Chairman of the British Medical Association’s Consultants Committee, said: “The debts attached to PFI schemes and the lack of flexibility in repaying them hugely increase the financial pressures on NHS trusts.
"While future funding for the NHS is uncertain, payments to private companies under PFI will burden local health economies for decades.
“This inflexibility has created financial instability in the NHS and ultimately makes cuts and closures more likely.”

Fortunately in Wales, the One Wales Government took a decision not to opt for PFI in the health service and has generally avoided the route taken by Westminster governments of all colours with this ruinous private sector involvement in the public sector.
But even so there are some clouds on the horizon - including the costly PFI project for the A55 on Ynys Mon and a small number of schools in Wales.
Wrecsam Council also signed up for a PFI scheme to deal with its waste disposal with WRG. The 25-year contract commits the council to a set amount of money being paid each year and this sum is ring-fenced. So while the council's income from the UK Treasury (via the Assembly block grant) is expected to be cut by up to 25% over the coming year, we will still be forced to pay the private company operating this PFI scheme.
This can't be right. Given the unprecedented assault on public services, Wrecsam Council should be able to renegotiate its PFI contract. If not, we could see vital services come under threat because we have committed to a costly long-term contract.

Unexpected and Unwelcome!

That's how a High Court Judge described Prince Charles's intervention to prevent the development of 600+ homes at the 12.5 acre site on which once stood Chelsea Barracks. Charles wrote to the Quatari Royal Family and implored them to pull out of a deal because he didn't like Lord Rogers's design for the development. It is a disgraceful state of affairs that an unelected Royal can wield this disproportionate amount of influence on planning applications and it would have served him right if the developers had sued the Prince for encouraging the Quatari Royals to pull out and thus breaching their contract.

The Judiciary have long been part of the British establishment and subservient to the monarchy and it's a pleasure to see senior members of the Judiciary having the courage to speak out against these establishment parasites...good on Mr Justice Vos.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

School transport vote

Tonight's extraordinary meeting of the full council saw a recorded vote of 24-20 calling for the Executive Board to reconsider the decision on scrapping free school transport to schools that aren't the nearest destination.

Although the Chirk connection with Dinas Bran has had the lion's share of attention, there were several other areas affected too, not least Caia Park. Pupils from the Gwenfro catchment area have been historically designated as serving Ysgol Clywedog despite Rhosnesni School being closer. That was enough for all four Caia councillors present - Marc Jones, Carrie Harper, Keith Gregory and Ron Prince - to vote against, as did other independents, one Tory and Labour.

The Executive Board will now meet on Tuesday to decide on the future of free school transport in Wrecsam.

Welsh not an indigenous people say Commission

It should not need pointing out that the Welsh are in fact the indigenous people of Wales. Most people would not disagree with that and would probably comment that I am highlighting the blindingly obvious by making such a remark. Yet, the Human Rights and Equality Commission last week gave evidence to the Welsh Assembly stating the opposite. The evidence heard by the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee from the Commission was that "Welsh people within the UK don't fit as an indigenous grouping" and therefore are not entitled to protection under Human Rights legislation, specifically the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A view was requested from the commission after a 20,000 strong petition was submitted to the Assembly in December last year, asking the government to withdraw from the West Cheshire/North East Wales sub-regional strategy. The evidence presented at the time included detailed extracts from the UN Declaration of Human Rights and specifically the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Evidence was submitted detailing how the plan breached these human rights as it acknowledged it would damage Welsh communities, identity and language through large planned population movements.

You can imagine my surprise when the response from the Human Rights and Equality Commission (yes I'm repeating their title deliberately) is that the Welsh are not classed as an indigenous people. We have no status what so ever in the United Nations and are therefore not entitled to protection under human rights law.

What a nice little loop hole to say that any plan or strategy, no matter how damaging, can be implemented in Wales because the Welsh as a nation don't officially exist. Of course if we were acknowledged as an indigenous people, the West Cheshire plan would be breaching human rights law left right and centre but of course no one has to pay any attention to that in Wales.

Having such a status would also give us the right to protect our language and communities across the country. So the question is really quite simple, do we have a right to exist?

Just in case anyone from the Human Rights Commission clicks on here, the definition of indigenous is as follows:

"originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native".

Here is the link to the Petitions Committee meeting held last week, the relevant info is around 23 minutes in.

Nwy Prydain.

Cofio faniau 'British Gas' yn mynd o gwmpas Cymru hefo'r logo neu'r brand 'Nwy Prydain'? Ddim mwy! Mae BG neu Centrica, wedi ail frandio ei fflyd o 4000 o faniau yn arddangos y brand 'British Gas' yn unig yng Nghymru, ac fel dywed gwefan BG:
We operate in England and Wales under the British Gas brand name and as Scottish Gas in Scotland.

Engraifft arall o fwy o gydnabyddiaeth i hunaniaeth yr Alban nac i Gymru; pam British Gas, pam ddim mynd nol i Nwy Prydain, neu hyd yn oed Nwy Cymru? Tybed sut mae deddfwriaeth ddiweddar i gryfhau defnydd o'r iaith Gymraeg yn y sector breifat yn mynd i ymateb i hyn...oes gan y ddeddfwriaeth ddannedd? Drosodd i Alun Ffred i ymateb...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Osborne's VAT attack on the poor

George Osborne, with Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander as Lib Dem cover beside him, delivered his much-touted Bloody Tuesday budget.
Having hyped up the savagery of the cuts, most people will be surprised that a cull of the first born wasn't a key policy announcement.

But make no mistake, the new ConDem coalition's budget was an attack on the poor. VAT is a flat tax that punishes those on low incomes more than the wealthy. That's not just our view, here's another critic:

In particular it will be recognised that VAT is a regressive tax that hits the poorest and middle income earners the hardest because they spend more of their wages than the rich. If VAT is to be the Tories get out of jail card and partially used to fund a reduction in inheritance tax then effectively they will be asking some of the hardest pressed families in Britain to effectively fund a tax cut for the 3,000 richest people in Britain and their estates.

How does that fit in with Cameron's compassionate conservatism

And how indeed does it fit into the Lib Dems' claim to be a radical progressive party?

Although food, books and children's clothes are VAT exempt, they all need to be transported. Increased fuel costs due to the VAT rise will also increase all families' costs.

The Financial Times has already revealed that poor areas such as West Wales will be hit hardest by the cuts. The research

showed the regional distribution of cutting a fifth of spending in sectors dominated by the public sector (public administration, education and defence).

Again, the poorest areas suffered most, with the local economy of West Wales taking a 3.3 per cent hit.

Now which area was least affected? You guessed it: Cheshire. The well-to-do home of Osborne’s constituency only saw a 1.5 per cent dip in its economic prospects.

Meanwhile, the banking industry gets a £2 billion levy - the lightest slap on the wrist possible from a government of millionaires - and the slight increase in Capital Gains Tax to 28% means the buy-to-let brigade are paying less tax than they should.

Plaid estimates up to 60,000 jobs in the public sector jobs could go because of the cuts in public spending. Osborne of course won't have to make those cuts - it will be left to the Welsh Government, local councils and others to juggle reduced budgets.

A bad budget for the poor, a bad budget for Wales.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Devolve powers on energy now IPC planning quango is to be scrapped

Predictably, the ConDem government's decision to scrap the Infrastructure Planning Commission, an unelected quango that had vast strategic powers on energy planning decisions, will mean no greater democracy for Wales.
The IPC operated in Wales and England only but its powers will now be retained by Wesminster rather than separated between London and Cardiff.

Ex-Labour minister to target public sector pensions

The ConDem coalition is busy co-opting Labour ex-ministers to do its dirty work. First it was Frank Field looking at welfare reform, now it's John Hutton drafted in to cut public sector pensions.

Makes a change from ex-ministers taking on lucrative City directorships, but it shows how interchangeable the London political elite really is.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Cut the public sector consultants - 1,193 Ministry of Defence consultants cost £122,000 each

Here's a public sector cut we can all live with: The Telegraph reports that the UK government spends £2bn on consultants and agency staff each year. And these aren't your usual minimum wage agency staff... in the Ministry of Defence the average cost of these freelancers is a staggering £122,000 each.

Taxpayers spend £2bn a year on consultants in Whitehall
Taxpayers are spending £2billion a year on employing expensive consultants and agency staff in Whitehall, new figures show.

The biggest survey of its kind has found that there are almost 20,000 temporary workers in Government departments and quangos on top of the 640,000 on the payroll.
It cost an average of £100,000 a year to employ each of them – more than three times more than the wages of the permanently employed civil servants.
The study was compiled by the Cabinet Office and is likely to lead to calls for some departments to cut down on their use of freelance staff.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said: “It’s important the Government gets this kind of management information so that it can really get a grip on numbers.
“Today’s figures may be a bit rough and ready, but we have to start gathering this kind of information straight away so that we know what the total workforce of government really is. Until now we’ve only had an incomplete picture of the true numbers of people working for us. But as we continue to push forward with our efficiency agenda, we need to ensure managers have this kind of basic management information.
“Even though today’s numbers may not be perfect, it’s important to put what we do know into the public domain straight away as we have promised to be more transparent about what is really going on in government.”
The survey includes details for 320 public sector bodies, ranging in size from Jobcentre Plus, which employs 91,407 people to the Teachers TV Board of Governors, where just five staff work.
The largest numbers of non-payroll staff – including agency staff, interim managers, specialist contractors and consultants – are in the Ministry of Defence, where 1,193 were working at the end of March this year.
There were also around 1,000 in the Department of Health and the Environment Agency.
The Department of Health spent £265m on its non-payroll staff in 2009-2010 while the Home Office spent £244m and the Ministry of Defence £146m.
In total, the survey found 641,611 payroll staff, whose salaries came to £20.513bn in 2009-2010, an average of £31,971.
However the 19,967 non-payroll staff cost £2.003bn – an average of £100,315 each.
The Cabinet Office insisted that the exercise is “incomplete” and so some figures could change, while the figures were reported by the departments themselves and not collated by the independent Office for National Statistics.

Instead it's likely that George "Oik" Osborne will opt to cut pensions, disability and jobless benefits by freezing them at a time when inflation is running at 3%.

The other question that needs answering is how many Whitehall jobs are secondments from the private sector - some subsidised by firms like PriceWaterhouseCooper who have done very well out of government PFI and privatisation schemes.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Wrecsam and the great housing revenue rip-off

It's not the first time we've featured the housing revenue subsidy rip-off and we'll keep writing about it until the mainstream media realises how important it is for Wrecsam's council tenants. A third of all money we have to spend on council housing disappears to London because of this unfair system. This is our latest press release:

The new UK Housing Minister Grant Sharps has agreed that the current housing subsidy system that sees Wrecsam Council having to hand over £11.2 million every year to the UK Treasury is unfair.

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrecsam have consistently blasted the current system, which forces Welsh councils to hand over millions of pounds every year to subsidise councils in Manchester and London boroughs.

Queensway Councillor Carrie Harper said: "The current system is quite simply outrageous. Councils in Wales are forced to hand over £80m from their housing revenue accounts - money that's needed for the maintenance of our housing stock. This is money from Welsh council tenants' rents, yet it is syphoned off to Westminster and redistributed to London boroughs. How can this possibly be right?

"This is money we desperately need to upgrade our own local homes. Much of our council stock needs new kitchens and bathrooms but we are unable to provide these, in part because of this unfair system. I'm pleased to hear that finally Westminster is heeding Plaid Cymru's calls to urgently reform the system. I very much hope the new UK Housing Minister will be true to his word regarding this matter and review the situation as a matter of urgency."

Plaid's Caernarfon East and Dinefwr MP Jonathon Edwards yesterday raised the matter in the House of Commons and the new Housing Minister Grant Sharps gave the following response:

"Mr Edwards is absolutely right that there are numerous problems with how the housing revenue account operates at the moment, in England as well as in Wales. The simplest answer that I can give him is that I agree, and we will continue the review."

Whitegate Councillor Marc Jones, who has also voiced strong concerns in the past, said: "Welsh councils are forced to give Westminster more than £80 million every year, with Wrecsam and Cardiff councils losing out more than any others. Plaid is the only party locally that has voiced its concerns about this situation and we will continue to fight to make sure this issue is at the top of the agenda both in the Assembly and in London."

"A review of the system is overdue. It doesn't apply in Scotland, so why is Wales having to subsidise relatively wealthy councils in England? The Housing Minister's comments yesterday give some hope that the London-based parties are finally taking our concerns seriously. Hopefully they will now ensure Wales gets a fair deal and our council tenants here in Wrecsam will rightly reap the benefits."

UPDATE: Today's Leader carries a very small item on this.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Laws for the rich

Private Eye's number crunching piece this week highlights the age-old adage of one law for the rich, another for the poor.

Disgraced government minister David Laws defrauded the state of £40,000 in payments to his partner without declaring their relationship. He was not charged, he was not asked to pay back the money.

Contrast that with a woman in Stoke on Trent who defrauded the state of £42,000 by not declaring that her partner was earning while she was on benefits. She received an 18-month jail sentence.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Kingsmills Road car sellers

Here's a story that appears in today's Leader:

Inconsiderate car sellers are making life hell for residents of a busy Wrexham road.

Residents on Kingsmills Road in Hightown say up to a dozen cars can be parked nose to tail outside their homes by people trying to sell them who are not from the area. In some cases they have blocked access to drives and also prevented ambulances from reaching elderly residents.

The county councillor for Whitegate ward Marc Jones visited a number of residents last night along with the local PCSO Michelle Knox and council officers to see what could be done. Cllr Jones said: "Residents I spoke to are at their wits' end over this issue. One mother said she had asked one man to move his car from outside her drive and been verbally abused while many elderly residents are concerned about access to taxis and ambulances. It's ridiculous that people from as far afield as Penycae and Plas Madoc are driving cars down here to sell them.

"I've asked the police to monitor the situation but there's little they can do legally as it's a public highway. So we must find some other way to safeguard the interests of local residents. I will be discussing the situation with all residents and, if they are agreed, will take forward the idea of a residents' parking scheme outside their homes."

One resident, who did not wish to be named, said: "I'm tearing my hair out after getting home from work and finding there's nowhere to park. It's even worse for elderly neighbours who have to walk some distance to taxis or ambulances."

Cllr Jones added: "Some of these cars are being left there for days on end and some residents who complain have been subjected to abuse. It's not on when all they want is a quiet life and they have my full sympathy."

He urged the unofficial car sellers to move on and leave local residents in peace.

UPDATE: Since that went out, I've discovered (with the help of a council officer) the relatively new offence of 'Exposing vehicles for sale on a road' was defined in the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005 Part 2, Section 3. The Act itself covers diverse issues including crime & disorder/anti-social behaviour, litter, graffiti & waste. The new offence 'makes it an offence for a person to park motor vehicles on a road or roads, where the vehicles are parked merely in order to be sold' .

Now I need to find out whether it's the police or council that will enforce this

Letter to the Leader: Mars Bar wars

Readers of the Leader will have seen the criticism by former county councillor John Humberstone of Plaid Cymru for daring to comment on Mars Bars having England flags on them for the World Cup and being on sale in Wrecsam. Not the most pressing of issues and I struggled to come up with a serious answer when phoned at 8.30am for a comment by the Leader reporter.
Here's my response to Humberstone, who asked me for a membership form for Plaid after we had four county councillors elected in May 2008. I'm glad to say we decided against that and he's found his proper political home in UKIP.

Dear Editor

John Humberstone (Letters, 8 June) is doing his usual trick of missing the point when he complains about the Leader article about Mars Bars. Rather than Plaid Cymru initiating this story, the Leader rang me and others for a comment.
I'd far rather the Leader was reflecting Plaid Cymru's views on the £11.2 million housing subsidy that Wrecsam pays to London councils every year. Despite our best efforts, that story has failed to make the pages of this newspaper, despite it being of vital importance to anyone concerned with the quality of housing in our borough.
I'd far rather the Leader highlighted the crazy situation where 36 NHS managers in North Wales are being paid to do nothing after the recent health board re-organisation at a cost of £2m a year and Plaid's criticism of that. But, again, silence reigns.
Plaid has also been campaigning to meet parents' demand for Welsh-medium school and that is slowly coming to fruition in the Gwersyllt area. Again, it's not an issue that has graced the pages of this newspaper.
I'd far rather be talking about these issues rather than a chocolate wrapper but I don't edit the Leader.
As a passionate Welsh football supporter, I wish England well in the World Cup but I won't be supporting them.

Marc Jones

Regular readers of this blog will know that we've flagged up the issues mentioned above without succeeding in getting the local papers to pick up on them. I'll leave it to you to decide about news values and editorial judgement.

Trident u-turn by Lib Dems - the first of many?

Before the election, the Lib Dems made great play of being against a Trident replacement, a sensible position given that it will cost £100 billion over 30 years. What a difference a few weeks make. The Lib Dems and Tories voted down Plaid's amendment in Westminster - along with the SNP and Greens - for the new Strategic Defence Review to include Trident in the review.

Bodelwyddan villagers resist housing plan

Work took me to Bodelwyddan tonight to hear about the latest details in the residents' campaign to halt the local council's plan to treble the size of the village.

Denbighshire County Council has decided that, in order to reach its housing target from now until 2021, it will allocate 300 acres of good agricultural land just off the A55 at Bodelwyddan for housing. That will provide 1715 homes - there are currently about 850 homes in Bodelwyddan.

There were more than 100 people present and all angry with the council's failure to be present - neither the lead member nor a planning officer made it to answer their questions. Campaign group secretary Alice Jones did a great job in showing them up.

There are so many holes in the plan that the LDP could be a Swiss cheese but perhaps the most damning was that Denbighshire itself has recently fought against a half acre plot being developed for housing at Lleweni on the grounds that it was good agricultural land!

A member of the audience raised the West Cheshire Plan and asked how that was driving the Bodelwyddan project. The chair Derek Barker replied by saying there was a recent presentation by the chair of the MDA in Conwy and that they'd said the focus of the MDA in terms of economic development was now turning towards Manchester - even further from North East Wales! Barker added that the whole thrust of the plan was to provide housing in North East Wales while the jobs were to be focused in Cheshire and Ellesmere Port.

He added that Denbs CC was only invited to join the MDA because it had spare housing land in the A55 area. This was essential because Cheshire West and Chester Council still has a moratorium on house building in the green belt and Flintshire has little land available for more housing, so Denbs was next. It was damning of the whole MDA strategy.

On the evidence of tonight's meeting, Denbighshire CC could have their LDP thrown out by the inspector because they cannot prove any housing need or sustainability in their plan to put so many houses in Bodelwyddan.

There was also great concern that a London based property speculator called Barwoods had got involved in the process to early and was dictating to the council. This one, as they say, will run and run.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Winning the referendum - a step forward

Lee Waters has an thoughtful article about the referendum on Assembly powers in today's Western Mail and on his Amanwy blog, in which he engages with the half-truth and lies that make up the current "no" campaign.
It's vitally important that progressives in Welsh politics respond enthusiastically. The referendum, as we know, will not grant Wales the Scottish-style powers that most people tell opinion pollsters they want. Nevertheless, as Lee makes clear, it is an important step forward in consolidating our Welsh democracy.
He concludes with a warning about the dangers of a "no" vote:
The majority of voters want to see devolution succeed, but the No campaigners want to hobble our Assembly.

They present a No vote in the referendum as a risk-free venture. Defeat the elites, says Oxford-educated True Wales spokeswoman Rachel Banner, and let Assembly Members carry on as they are.

But staying as we are is not an option. If Wales votes no to the proposals for modest reform, the Assembly’s ability to stand up for Wales will begin to unravel.

We already know that London officials need little excuse to sideline Welsh affairs. Indeed, Wales’ former top civil servant, Sir Jon Shortridge, has described in detail how awareness of the needs of Wales in Whitehall is poor. The UK Cabinet Secretary put the failure to take Welsh interests into account down to “forgetful- ness” among Whitehall chiefs.

If there is a no vote, the slow and complicated system of law-making will get worse.

The holes in the devolution settlement will be exploited. Whitehall mandarins will become even more absent-minded about Wales if they feel they have a green light to frustrate the Assembly.

So the status quo is not an option. Forward or back, that’s the option. And let’s not pretend otherwise.

Capitalism's Catch-22

This excellent article is a timely reminder of why we're being told by Cameron and Clegg to prepare for "life-changing" cuts in our public services. In the past decade, the banking system was completely out of control.
Jerome Kerviel was the Breton bank trader who gambled and lost his bank a €5bn fortune. His trial starts this week:
If you want to hide a leaf, find a forest. Jérôme Kerviel, alleged to be the world's biggest rogue trader, will attempt to hide a €5bn leaf in a multi-trillion euro forest when he goes on trial in Paris today. Mr Kerviel's defence will be horrendously complex – and very simple. His lawyers will admit that what he did in 2007-8 – to bet more than the value of France's second largest bank on a series of trades on stock exchange futures – was insane. However, they will also argue that his actions were rational, even tacitly approved, within a global banking culture which had, itself, broken off relations with reality.

Put another way, the chief exhibits in Mr Kerviel's defence will be the subprime mortgage crisis and the global financial meltdown of 2008-9.

As Kerviel says in his autobiography:

"No doubt I committed errors. I overrode the usual methods, loaded false data to disguise gains, as well as losses. In a word, I pushed the system to its limit... But [what] was happening around me? [A] giant fraud perpetrated by all the trading floors in the world. To get good results, any tricks were permitted. The golden rule of the banking culture was simple: if you win, you are in the right; if you lose you are wrong and you're out."

It reminds you of the twisted rationale of Catch-22:
"The only way to survive such an insane system is to be insane oneself."

Monday, 7 June 2010

Delivering affordable housing

It's an important planning committee meeting tonight at which councillors will be asked to support outline permission for 100% affordable housing on 11 sites throughout the borough. That comes on top of the sites approved last month.
Whitegate ward has two sites - one for two bungalows on Rubery Way, where there are already some pensioners' bungalows and the other on the northern car park by the entrance to Whitegate Industrial Estate. This will provide up to a dozen affordable homes and will hopefully meet some of the high demand for family homes in that part of the ward.
Both are part of the joint venture scheme between the council and the Welsh Assembly Government, which has kick started the affordable housing scheme through releasing the Bridge Street site in Wrecsam town centre.

e-Petition: Review the Schools Admissions Code

Please sign this petition:
We call upon the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Assembly Government to review the School Admissions Code, as the current Code discriminates against children who are able to speak Welsh (Paragraph 2.26) and children who have a faith or religion (Paragraph 2.39). Also, the policy needs to be amended to give children who were in nursery education in a Welsh school priority for the reception class.

E-ddeiseb: Adolygu Cod Derbyn i Ysgolion

Cefnogwch y ddeiseb:
Rydym ni, yn galw ar Gynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru i annog Llywodraeth Cymru i adolygu Cod Derbyn Ysgolion yn arbennig gan fod y Cod presennol yn gwahaniaethu ar sail cydraddoldeb rhwng plant sydd ar gallu i siarad Cymraeg (Paragraff 2.26) a phlant sydd a ffydd neu grefydd (Paragraff 2.39). Hefyd mae angen adolygu a newid y polisi i adael i blant oedd mewn meithrin mewn ysgol Gymraeg gael blaenoriaeth ar gyfer y dosbarth derbyn.

Now it get's interesting!

Plaid Cymru together with the SNP and the Greens in Westminster have tabled an amendment to the Queens Speech calling for a review of Trident to be included in the Strategic Defence Review. This will cause particular problems for the Liberal Democrats who are 'wishy washy' on the question of Trident...they want something but they don't know what!!. The problem for Labour is worse with many of their newly elected MP's being opposed to Trident and that includes the new Labour member for South Clwyd, Susan Elen Jones.

It will be an interesting debate and let's see the how the Con-Dem coalition keep that one together.

Plaid Cymru/SNP/Green Press Release:
Plaid Cymru has called on Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs to support an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which would see the future of the Trident nuclear missile system considered as part of the forthcoming strategic defence and security review.

The amendment, tabled jointly by Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party, would ensure that the £100bn Trident renewal was not excluded from the defence review.

The parties hope to gain further support from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives before pushing the amendment to a vote this evening (Monday). In the coalition agreement for government the Liberal Democrats claim that they “will continue to make the case for alternatives” to Trident.

Commenting, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson, Elfyn Llywd MP said:

“Renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system will cost £100bn over the next 30 years. David Cameron and Nick Clegg simply must not sleepwalk into making this massive financial commitment to an outdated, ineffective weapons system.

“In the coalition’s Programme for Government, the Liberal Democrats assert they will continue to make the case for alternatives to Trident but when will they do this if the future of the system is not considered as part of a Strategic Defence Review?

“Even aside from the moral arguments, at a time when the government is looking to make cuts across all departments, it does not make sense for any spending review to ignore one of the most costly and unnecessary tax-payer funded projects.”

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP added:

“A strategic defence review is necessary to prioritise our defence needs in a changed world, but you cannot have a meaningful debate about that if you start by excluding the future of the Trident programme.

“Our view remains that it should be scrapped and more so, at a time when public spending faces savage cuts across the board, the time has come to accept that Trident can no longer be treated as some sacred cow.

“It will be a sham exercise if the UK Government proceeds with a defence review that does not include the future of the hyper-expensive Trident programme while considering cuts to other conventional forces and operations.

“Anyway that you look at it; on moral, economic or political grounds, renewal of these weapons of mass destruction is untenable.”

Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas MP added:

“As we begin a new parliament with a new government, the time has come to rise above party politics and fundamentally challenge the decision to renew Trident.

“We cannot continue to lecture countries such as Iran on the implications of their nuclear programme whilst proceeding blindly with our own – a move which would be both hypocritical and dangerous.

"Moreover, nuclear weapons remain a costly distraction from the real security threats we face, like climate change. The billions being spent on Trident replacement could be much better spent on investing in developing the infrastructure we need for a zero carbon economy, as well as in protecting public services.

"To use the money on a project that will make Britain and the world a far more dangerous place is politically irresponsible, morally bankrupt, and economically obscene."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Tory environment minister's links to pro-GM firm

Guido Fawkes might be a dodgy right-winger but he's bang on the money with his latest expose:

It seems Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman has given official backing for the wider growing and selling of genetically modified crops The Guardian.

As Guido points out:

It is currently illegal to grow GM crops in the UK but not for long it seems. What a strange coincidence though, remember this:

Spelman spent her days before becoming an MP in the agri-business. Seemingly well connected in the field, Caroline and her husband Mark went on to set up “Spelman, Cormack & Associates” in 1989 as a food and bio-technology lobbying company.

A lobbying firm that would directly benefit from a relaxation of the GM crops red tape. A lobbying firm that until a year ago, Mrs Spelman owned half of and was being run out of her constituency home. GM crops are a controversial enough subject without messy financial interests clouding the arguments. This isn’t the first conflict of interest that has arisen for Spelman and until she makes moves to recuse herself from certain aspects of her job, it won’t be the last.

So the person in charge of the UK government's environmental policy is a agri-business lobbyist. The new ConDem coalition already smells very much like the last one.

Tax Incentives for Renewable Energy.

I have recently received a quote for a Photovoltaic system for my house (2.96KWp PV system). One of the main incentives is the 41 pence per KWh feed in tariff I will get which according to the surveyor will work out something like:
This system will produce 2222 KWh’s per annum and save 1262 kg’s of CO2 emissions annually on a 70degree off South facing roof at 23 degrees and unshaded. This system will generate an income of about £918.00 and offset £333.00 of imported electricity based on feed-in-tarrifs introduced April 2010.

Therefore with an income/benefit of £1251 pa I can expect to pay off the cost of the PV system in 9 years or a return on investment of 11%, which seems a bit ambitious when governmental figures suggests the FIT return on this investment is 5 to 8%. The Government (or the European Union) have imposed a 5% rate of VAT on renewable energy projects compared to the 17.5% standard rate saving nearly £1500 on my project as well.

The feed in tariff and the tax breaks have convinced me of the value of going for a renwable energy system...and of course we mustn't forget the 1262 Kgs of carbon emissions reduction that this project would deliver (according to the commercial supplier)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

North Wales Police promises better support for rape victims

I cannot help but be somewhat skeptical as to the claims and promises made by Detective Chief Inspector Wayne Jones in this public relations plug in yesterday's Flintshire Chronicle where he states:
“Rape is a uniquely difficult crime to investigate and requires dedicated and specialist resources, so over the past year your police force has conducted a series of reviews to ensure our response to rape is right at every stage of the investigation.

“This has led to a comprehensive action plan and we are already seeing the benefits.”

I very much hope that it will be the case in future, it is not however the case at present. Over the last 6 months I have been representing a rape victim who was raped and then harrassed constantly for a number of months and even threatened with a gun. The victim received none of the services outlined in this article and she was really struggling to get any information from the Police until we made a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The complaint was thoroughly investigated and North Wales Police admitted that there had been errors in procedures and that lessons had been learnt. I very much hope that those lessons have been included in Wayne Jones's action plan.

One question that is not answered in this article is how North Wales Police are going to measure this improvement in the investigation of rape allegations? For us members of the public and interested observers it is difficult to ascertain how many allegations of rape there are in North Wales, how many are detected and how many result in convictions and imprisonment.

Now the Home Office data shows that there were 573 sexual offences in North Wales in 2008/09, but it doesn't say how many of those were rapes or how many were detected etc.

North Wales Police on the other hand produce a very detailed Monthly Information Bulletin (78 pages), in the latest edition, it shows there were 37 reported Serious Sexual Offences in 2009/10, up from 32 on the previous year. Ten of those 37 crimes were detected, up from 3 the previous year and of those 10, nine were summonsed or charged with the offence, so in 25% of this category of offence there was sufficient evidence to charge or summons.

We are however none the wiser as to how many allegations of rape there were in 2009/10. A quick scan of the Crown Prosecution Service's conviction data for the first quarter of 2009 shows that there were 23 prosecutions for SEXUAL offences with 21 of those resulting in convictions. The problem here though is comparing like with like the Police figures relate to Serious Sexual offences and CPS refer to Sexual Offences so how do we reconcile these figures.

Therefore if Wayne Jones seeks to convince us that North Wales Police will improve in its quality of rape investigations then he needs to come up with the figures for how many incidents of rape there have been in the last 12 months, how many were detected and how many successfully prosecuted in court. Until we have that information we cannot judge his claim.

Friday, 4 June 2010

“Hearts and minds” and Adam Ingram

Guest Blog by Plaid Hightown.

Let us be honest- the battle to win the “hearts and minds” in Iraq and Afghanistan has been lost. Indeed, it could be argued that the “hearts and minds” of the UK population was never secured for these wars either. This has been further highlighted by recent revelations in the inquiry to the death of Baha Mousa whilst in the custody of the British army. The general picture is that his death was as a consequence of dodgy practices (banned by Ted Heath in the 1970’s) during his detention and interrogation. More worryingly are Adam Ingram’s (Armed Forces minister at the time) comments made to the inquiry inferring that he misled Parliament about the extent of his awareness of the situation. His defence was that he cannot be expected to recall everything, which I strongly agree with, but surely a minister in his position can recall reports received of a detainee dying whilst hooded for prolonged periods- not something I suspect one forgets in a hurry except for reasons of convenience. We are assured that such hoodings only took place during transit so I can only assume that traffic jams are horrendous in Iraq for Mousa to be hooded for 23 hours and 40 minutes- hey, let’s call it a whole day. During the terms of the last government there were many reports of the adoption of West Wing style administration, it appears that the approach to Iraq adopted the tactics of Jack Bauer and 24!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Spot the difference and support your team

Congratulations to the bar staff in one Wrecsam pub who were up in arms when these fliers arrived:

The bar staff insisted that the pub chain's owners recognise that their customers were not automatically going to support England at the coming World Cup fest (remember the huge support for Trinidad and Tobago due to Dennis Lawrence in 2006?) and were duly sent this version:

Small crumbs of comfort.

Guest Blog by Plaid Hightown

Rest assured I am still somewhat disgruntled by the appointment of Cheryl Gillan that I have resorted to accepting that the appointment of David TC Davies even would have been an improvement! Perhaps that David Davies’ time commitment in undertaking his duties as a Special Constable with the Transport Police prevented him from being considered for the role of Secretary of State for Wales! Despite not being a big fan of the Monmouth MP I must accept that having been elected as a Welsh based MP he had a greater claim for that role than Cheryl Gillan. There were indeed 40 others who had a greater claim to the role and 11 of them from the coalition benches, with 4 of those having also served in the National Assembly. Surely in the current political climate of devolution it was a perfect opportunity to ensure that the Secretary of State of Wales also had the benefit of a good understanding of how the Senedd/Commons relationship works. Having said that, a more democratic process of the imminent election of a chair for the Welsh Select Committee through a secret ballot is refreshing, although how democratic a process this is when it eliminates members of other parties is questionable? It has been agreed that the chair should be a Tory. Is this a ploy to stall and dictate the timing a referendum…...?

Mwy o Ddeddfwriaeth!

Yn dilyn y trasiedi yng ngorllewin Cumbria mae na beryg i'r llywodraeth ymateb i'r galw am gryfhau y deddfwriaeth yn ymwneud a gynnau ac wrth neud hynny, gor ymateb neu y 'knee jerk reaction' sydd yn gyfrifol am nifer o ddeddfwriaethau gwael fel rheini yn ymwneud a chwn peryglus ar ddeddf hela.

Yn dilyn trasiedi Dunblane cyflwynwyd deddfwriaeth yn gwahardd gynnau llaw (handguns), tybed faint o droseddau sydd wedi bod ers Dunblane lle mae gynnau llaw wedi ei defnyddio? Tipyn faswn i'n meddwl.

Y cwestiwn mawr ydy; os fasa na ddeddfwriaeth gryfach fasa hynny wedi atal y trasiedi yn Cumbria, a dwi o'r farn na fasa fo wedi gneud mymryn o wahaniaeth.

Pam mae person yn gneud cais am drwydded gwn mae'n rhaid llenwi ffurflen gais a rhaid i rywyn sydd wedi adnabod yr ymgeisydd gydlofnodi yn datgan cymwyster yr ymgeisydd i gael trwydded. Yn dilyn hynny mae'r Heddlu yn cario allan ymchwiliad i gefndir yr ymgeisydd sef troseddau ac yn y blaen; wedyn mae'r penderfyniad yn cael ei neud ynglyn ac addasrwydd yr ymgeisydd i ddal trwydded. Os does yna ddim gwybodaeth i ddeud fod y person yn anaddas fe geith drwydded am rhwng dair a phum mlynedd.

Y broblem ydy fe sy'n digwydd os ydy iechyd person yn dirywio yn yr amser rhwng rhoi y drwydded a'i adnewyddu, does posib deddfu ar gyfer y sefyllfa yma. Os does neb yn hysbysu yr awdurdodau o newidiadau yng nghymeriad deilydd trwydded yn cyfeirio at y ffaith ei fod yn anaddas, does ddim posib ddiddymu y drwydded.

Os oes angen newid y broses hwyrach fod angen adnewyddu trwydded bob blwyddyn a ddim bob tair neu bump blynedd ac hefyd gneud hi'n haws ddiddymu trwydded.

Dim deddfwriaeth yn gwahardd gynnau ydy'r ateb ond mwy o reoleiddio i benderfyny pwy sydd yn addas i gael trwydded.

Another Petition!

Even the European Commission has jumped on the 'open government and accountability' bandwagon 'encouraging' citizens to petition the European Commission; this is what a summary of Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty says:
The Treaty of Lisbon introduced the European citizens' initiative, a major innovation to strengthen the democratic fabric of the European Union.

According to Article 11 of the treaty, "not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of member states may take the initiative of inviting the [European] Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the treaties".

The European citizens' initiative would therefore enable European citizens and civil society organisations to directly influence the political agenda of the EU for the first time in history.

The European Parliament in 2009 adopted a resolution which provides detailed guidelines for implementing the initiative.

All very good so far but here comes the restrictions:

1. One million signatories.
2. Must come from one third of countries i.e. 9
3. Signatories must be in proportion to the population of the countries i.e 5,000 from Estonia, 50,000 from France etc.
4. The European Commission will apply an admissibilty test once the number of signatories has reached 300,000.
5. The million signatories must be collected within 12 months.
6. Each signatory will have to provide a variety of personal data to prevent fraud.

As if the above were not restrictive enough a Slovac Vice President of the European Commission said,
The European Commission will filter citizens' petitions to make sure that "silly" initiatives like abolishing the EU are blocked, Maroš Šefčovič, a vice-president of the EU executive, told EurActiv in an interview ahead of talks today (6 May) on improving the transparency of EU decision-making. Asked whether the ECI could one day oblige the Commission to draft legislation on abolishing the EU or banning the Islamic burqa, Šefčovič said "it is quite clear that if it comes to silly initiatives, there will just be an administrative procedure and the initiative will not be registered".

Anders Ekberg one of the promoters of the Oneseat Campaign; which wants to bring an end to the so-called travelling circus which makes MEPs, their staff, journalists and lobbyists travel 450km from Brussels to Strasbourg for twelve four-day sessions a year has collected 1.27 million signatures over a 4 year period. Ekberg will not however be using this new petition saying that it is too complex, he added,
"This seems to be a way for the Commission to make sure that is more difficult to reach one million of signatures and also another evidence of how old fashioned they are,"

I wonder how many petitions to the European Commission there will be? I think I'll stick with the National Assembly's Petition system...10 signatories and it goes to the Petitions Committee, a far more open and transparent way of doing business.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Pot, Kettle, Black!

Whilst we all sympathise with the families of those killed during the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla it is a bit rich of Recep Tayyip Erdogan the Turkish Prime Minister to condemn Israel of atrocities whilst his own record of human rights against the Kurds is nothing to write home about.

This is what Erdogan had to say,
"Israel cannot clean the blood off its hands through any excuse, It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israel's lawlessness. This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse."

The Kurdish press on the other hand accuses Erdogan of breaching international law:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that the Israeli attack was a “bloody massacre” which can not go unpunished. Speaking in Parliament Erdoğan recalled his confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos summit in January 2009. On that occasion Erdoğan stormed out of the debate after telling Peres: "You know well how to kill people."

Turkish prime minster loses his temper over the killing in Gaza while he is persistent in his policy of denial and annihilation of the Kurds in his own country. Over 15,000 Kurdish politicians are in Turkish prisons and over 2,660 Kurdish minors are jailed. The violence has escalated between Turkish Army and the Kurdish resistance movement after the Turkish bombardment of Kurdistan in last week.

Erdoğan said Turkey's hostility was as "strong as its friendship is valuable," and added that the Israeli action was an attack "on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace."

Erdogan claims that Israeli attack is against international law but Turkish warplane raided Kurdistan using chemical bombs prohibited by the international laws.

For Erdogan to condemn Netanyahu is like the 'pot calling the kettle black'