Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The good, the bad and the ugly... Tories and True Wales

Paul Rogers - Tory candidate for Clwyd South

John Broughton - Tory agent for Clwyd South and True Wales campaigner

Nick Bourne - leader of the Tory Party in Wales

Which one is the real face of the Tory party in Wales?

First, there's the official version - Nick Bourne and his 12 Tory AMs have signed up to the "yes" campaign and greater powers for the Assembly.

Then there's the grassroots version - John Broughton, the Tory agent for Clwyd South and a dedicated campaigner for the "no" campaign through True Wales. So dedicated is this Corwen-based right-winger that posted this on Twitter:

My statement to every candidate for the Welsh Assembly election in May 11 - if you support additional powers I will not help in any way

Finally, there's the Paul Rogers dilemma. Will he come out and back his leader? Or will he stay out of the fray and hope the whole issue goes away? He certainly did the latter when it came to the vote in Wrecsam Council earlier this month. Cllr Rogers was nowhere to be seen.

But as the referendum approaches it's clear that Broughton is getting more and more excitable, so expect to see him put greater pressure on his candidate to come out as a devo-sceptic. That won't go down well with the party hierarchy, but then they're not delivering his leaflets...

Funding cut for housing charity slammed

The decision to cut funding for a housing advice charity have been slammed by Plaid Cymru.

Shelter Cymru's £44,000 annual grant from Wrexham Council that enabled it to provide specialist housing advice for people facing homelessness has been cut.

Plaid Cymru councillor Arfon Jones, who sits on the council's executive board, was fiercely opposed to the funding cut and tried to persuade fellow councillors that a compromise deal that saw the charity receive £18,000 from the council would be in both Wrexham's and Shelter's best interests.

He said:
"The decision to cut the funding from Shelter makes no sense at a time when the council admits the demands on its own homeless services has risen 17% in the past year. All the councillors present accept that Shelter is doing a good job. My argument is that Shelter is doing a job that the council cannot provide in many cases as it could lead to a conflict of interests.

"In addition, Shelter is the only housing advice team locally that can offer expert legal advice for people facing re-possession and eviction and I am very concerned that we will lose that expertise at a time when evictions and homelessness are rising due to the recession."

Cllr Jones added: "Shelter is facing funding cuts from other sources and I would suggest that continuation of any services by Shelter in this county would be under threat if the council cuts its funding entirely."

He said that would mean the following cuts:

- No representation for council tenants facing eviction in court.

- No independent review of homeless decisions.

- No independent advice on appealing decisions of the local authority.

- No representation in court for home owners facing repossession

- Assistance with suitability of accommodation.

- Advice on disrepair including disrepair in council housing.

- No representation for home owners because they are not eligible.

He said:
"I honestly believe that if we cease to fund Shelter Cymru completely the numbers of homeless applications WILL increase, possibly quite significantly. There is no advice provider in this County Borough than can provide the level of expertise in housing issues that Shelter can."

Councillor Marc Jones, for Whitegate ward, supported his fellow Plaid Cymru councillor. He said:
"The rise in the numbers of people using the council's own homeless service shows that this is not the time to be cutting this specialist service.

"The council has a Homeless Prevention Fund, which is currently meant to be used to stop people being made homeless. I have concerns about the efficiency of this fund. This could be used more effectively to fund the council's advice service rather than clawing back money from Shelter."

Despite the arguments, councillors voted 6-2 to cut all funding for Shelter Cymru.

Fees support for Welsh students hailed by Plaid

The Welsh Assembly Government’s announcement that Welsh students will not have to pay any extra tuition fees has been welcomed by Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru candidate in Clwyd South. He said that this was a clear example of a Plaid-driven Government putting principles into action.

While basic tuition fees in Wales will rise, students from Wales studying anywhere in the UK will not have to pay any extra cost with the balance being met by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Mabon ap Gwynfor said:
“This is a principled decision made by the Welsh Assembly Government. Higher Education should not be the preserve of the wealthy, but instead everybody should have equal opportunity to attend any University of their choice based on merit.

“I have personally campaigned against student tuition fees for 12 years, leading students from what was NEWI (now Glyndwr University) on marches in London back in 2000. This is a lesson to the Liberal Democrats on how to put principles into action when in Government. Both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have turned their backs on Welsh students. This is a clear example of a Welsh Government responding to Wales’ needs.”

Mabon ap Gwynfor said that this policy announcement would help secure Glyndwr University’s future:

“The policies implemented in London of slashing the Higher Education budget in England, which will result in less money being transferred over to the Welsh Assembly Government, and opening up Higher Education to the market further by significantly raising fees, threatens to damage Welsh universities. The Welsh Assembly Government have tried to minimise the effects of the Tory-Lib Dem Higher Education funding policies as much as possible in order that Welsh students and Welsh universities continue to contribute to the development of our society.”

He was supported by Marc Jones, Plaid's Assembly candidate for Wrexham, who said:
"Welsh students and their families can now see what a progressive government can do. Even with the limited powers the Assembly currently has and the budget restrictions placed on it by London, it has made a brave decision to invest in the next generation's education.

"This is in complete contrast to the Lib Dem-Conservative government in London, which has decided to increase annual tuition fees to £9,000. This will help make a university education something that only the rich and privileged can afford in England while the Plaid-Labour government in Wales keeps the doors open for people from all backgrounds."

Top NHS bosses grab 30%+ pay rises

Substantial pay rises were made to top health board managers when the money should have been invested in frontline services, says Plaid Cymru.

The revelation comes as under-fire management at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board faces growing criticism over a possible reconfiguration of many of its services across the north of Wales.

The most significant pay rises between 2008-9 and 2009-10 include:

Chief Executive £150,000 to £190,000
Medical director £30,000 to £70,000
Director of nursing £95,000 to £120,000
Director of planning £100,000 to 120,000
Director of primary care £60,000 to £120,000

The top executives also had large rises in their pension pots with the Medical Director topping £1m and the chief executive's increasing in real terms by £110,000 in one year to £745,000.

Plaid Cymru's Llyr Huws Gruffydd, who tops the party's North Wales list, said:
"At a time when we're being told that we're all in it together, it cannot be right that top pay at our NHS board is rising to these levels.

"The pay rises for some of these executives is excessive when compared with the pay freeze public sector workers across north Wales are facing.

“This money should be prioritised for key frontline services not directed into the pockets of already highly paid executives. These individuals have a moral duty to play their part in these hard times.”

Plaid Cymru's Wrexham candidate for the Assembly Marc Jones said:
"Staff and patients will be astounded at these rises - it's very damaging for morale within the NHS. Plaid wants public money spent in the right places not raising the pay of top executives.

"Cuts imposed by the London government on the Welsh budget have seen public services in Wales having to tighten belts. It's important that senior managers realise that includes them as well."

• Full details of pay and pensions for senior managers on p54 of this report

Friday, 26 November 2010

Betsi's Spin Doctors!

One of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's more obscure directorate is the Governance and Communications Directorate with a staff of thirteen and a massive budget of over three quarters of a million pounds. The directorate is headed by Grace Lewis Parry on a generous salary of £95,000 a year.

One would have thought that with such a generous budget Grace would have managed to spin the Health Board out of all sorts of negative press that has appeared in the Welsh daily newspapers surrounding the Health Board's disastrous attempts at implementing their Maternity and Child Health Review as well as other reviews.

No, it was not to be; the negativity around the Health Board was so bad that they had to employ a Public Relations Consultant, Eryl Jones from Equinox for six weeks work at a cost of nearly £10,000 to help spin them out of trouble.

Where does it all end?

More problems for Cowen.

The first preference votes in the Donegal South West seat are now counted with Pearse Doherty the Sinn Fein candidate having nearly double (39.75% to 21.2%) the first preference votes to Fianna Fail's, Brian O' Domhnaill. Barring a disaster on the second preference votes it looks like a Sinn Fein gain from Fianna Fail which reduces Brian Cowen's majority in the Dail down to two independants with a difficult budget to pass, not to mention a January General Election.

It's going to be an interesting couple of months in Leinster House, any bets on how Fine Gael will vote on the budget?

UPDATE - Fianna Fail concede defeat.

How journalism works ("Wrexham Council boss wages anger")

This is today's front page in the Wrexham Leader:

WREXHAM Council has come under fire over plans to award its chief executive a pay rise.

Isobel Garner’s salary could jump to an estimated £109,000 at a time when the local authority has said it is looking to cut its budget by £7 million.

The increase represents a 1.4 per cent pay rise for Ms Garner, who currently earns £107,472.

The move has been branded “unacceptable” by some members, who say it sends out the wrong message in the current difficult economic climate.

Marc Jones, county councillor for the Whitegate ward, attacked the planned increase saying: “When many council workers are facing uncertainty about their jobs and pay freezes, it’s unacceptable that the authority's highest paid officer should be receiving a pay rise.

“I couldn't support the recommendations made in the report and the feeling among councillors was that belt tightening has to start at the top.

“More fundamentally, I would also question the whole way in which executive pay is decided within the public sector. The advice from outside consultants is always to match salaries to their equivalent in other authorities.

"To do so in our chief executive’s case could have meant a 20 per cent pay rise and that was rightly rejected by councillors. Highly paid consultants are helping to inflate top salaries in the public sector.”

Cllr Malcolm King, the county councillor for Wynnstay ward, said: “Unfortunately I can’t comment on the merits or otherwise of any individual’s pay or employment conditions.

“But given that so many people are losing their jobs or having their pay frozen and even cut, members of the public and probably some of our own staff may feel this is extremely unfortunate timing to say the least. One could very easily sympathise with that view.”

Caia Park community councillor John Humberstone said he was stunned by the pay level, particularly when many people in the town are facing a bleak Christmas with the prospect of job losses and wage cuts.

He said: “I think this is inappropriate and distasteful. I would call on her to lead from the front and not take the rise. A figure of £100,000-plus is an awful lot of money for the council tax payers of Wrexham to fund.

“I don’t think it is right that someone on that kind of wage is getting a rise at this time. The price of goods in the supermarkets is the same for everyone and so many are struggling to make ends meet.”

A statement from the authority says it reviewed its senior pay levels on Monday. The recommendations were made by a politically balanced pay and reward panel with external advice. Staff are not involved in reviewing their own pay.

“The chief executive’s pay is openly available on our website. However the report to council was considered confidentially for reasons that it was still in a negotiation phase,” the statement said.

“Council recommended formal consultation with the employees affected and consequently the information on pay levels remains confidential. The chief executive’s pay has not been reviewed for a number of years.

“Clearly the council is engaged in making efficiency savings and one of the key terms of reference of the pay and reward panel was affordability and consistency.

“As a result the recommendations currently being consulted on involve minimal changes to current pay levels. The chief executive’s pay level changes by 1.4 per cent and the strategic and performance director’s pay does not change immediately although they do transfer to incremental scales, consistent with the rest of the organisation.”

A council spokesman added the award is not likely to be implemented for the next three months because consultation now takes place between the employees affected and the pay and reward panel.

The local authority’s website currently lists Ms Garner’s gross annual salary as £107,472.

Despite what some political opponents believe, my response was based on the Leader's reporter contacting me for a quote based on the council's own press release, which revealed the chief executive's 1.4% pay rise.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Hate Crime in North Wales.

The Daily Post reported today that 1800 hate crimes had been reported in North Wales over the last 5 years and the report goes into some detail as to the ages of the alleged perpetrators. One of the categories of hate crime recorded is Welsh English relationships and I have previously blogged on this subject here and here and it concerned the case of Gwion Jones from Porthmadog who was heavily fined for making anti English comments about his ex employer on his Facebook page.

Following on from these blogs I then made a Freedom of Information request of North Wales Police and posed the following questions:
1.The total number of hate incidents reported in your force area in the 12 months ending on the 31st July 2010.
2.The number of those incidents that were anti English hate crimes.
3.The number of those incidents that were anti Welsh hate crimes.
4.As of Tuesday 31st August what proportion of those incidents as at 2) above were detected
5.As above for 3)
6.Finally how many prosecutions took place in respect of Q 2 and 3.

On the 29th September 2010, I received a response from North Wales Police which was in effect a 'refusal' under Section 17(5) of the Freedom of Information Act that answers to most of the questions were available on the North Wales Police website

North Wales Police's Monthly Information Bulletin shows that in the year to end of July 2010, there were a total of 147 Hate crimes of these 12 were categorised Welsh/English hate crimes and 58% of them were detected. North Wales Police 'refused' to provide a breakdown of those 12 crimes stating that,
"...would involve manually reviewing each record...The cost of providing you with the information is above the amount to which we are legally required to respond."

Section 12 of the Freedom of Information (Fees and Appropriate Limits) Regulations 2004, states that public authorities do not have to supply the information if it costs £450 or above to retrieve the information at £25 per hour. This means that North Wales Police are refusing on the basis that it will take MORE than 18 hours to scan 12 crime reports! I was also refused an answer to the number of prosecutions on the basis that the Ministry of Justice holds that information.

This frankly is a deliberate attempt to withold information and NOT to comply with the Section 16 of the Freedom of Information Act which directs agencies to provide advice and assistance to applicants, which will be the subject of a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office.

Not only did I just make this FOIA request to North Wales Police but also to the other three forces in Wales and all the Scottish Police forces. Whilst many were as unhelpful as North Wales Police others like Dyfed Powys Police provided all the information requested as did some Scottish forces.

The lessons to be learnt here is not to accept no as an answer and to determine whether the public authority has acted reasonably and complied with the Act.

Tory attitudes towards the poor!

This is what Howard Flight an ex Tory MP and now the recently enobled Lord Flight has to say about welfare benefit recipients:
"We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible."

You'd expect me to be shocked, but frankly I'm not, this is what I have come to expect of the Tories, despite Cameron's efforts at creating a nice party, they are anything but. They are a nasty, intolerant party and I would be more shocked if I came across a Tory that was kind and generous to those less fortunate than themselves; one nation Tories are very few and far between in the so called modern Conservative Party.

VAT a rip-off! Time to tax the rich

We're all in it together aren't we?

All of us, working or not, pensioners, disabled, millionaires and paupers are all paying the same taxes, right?

Except that very few people in Wales are sending their kids to private school - just 2% by the last count - and even fewer maintain a private jet or helicopter.

Yet while we ordinary folk are expected to pay VAT on goods and services, the rich are exempt from paying VAT on the kinds of services they use.

Perversely, mobility aids for disabled people has a 5% VAT rate while a millionaire's helicopter is exempt from VAT. The full list of exemptions is here

Someone who can afford to send their kids to a £30,000-a-year private school is also exempt from paying VAT for the service. The schools themselves don't pay taxes like the rest of us either - they're classed as charities.

In it together? When even the Chancellor has a £4m offshore trust to avoid paying UK tax and Vodaphone has £6 billion of taxes written off by HMRC, you must be joking.

Hat tip to the ever readable Valleys Mam

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tweet of the Day

HT to @WeeChrissieB for this tweet of the day:
Royalwedding on 29th April. Same date that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun tied the knot. Well, that'll give Prince Harry a chance to dress up.

Equality training Denbighshire style.

I don't suppose it would be too difficult to guess to which party a Councillor who mentions 'travellers' and 'Hitler' at the same time belongs to would it? Despite David Cameron's attempts to make the Tory party a nice tolerant and inclusive party; but the rank and file members of his party are hell bent on giving us the impression that they are anything but tolerant.

The latest to 'put his foot in it' ot to use my favourite quote for such occasions, 'opening mouth before engaging brain' is Councillor Michael John Eckersley, Conservative Member for Prestatyn North on Denbighshire Council and Mayor of Prestatyn.
This is how the Daily Post today reported on Councillor Eckersley's comments in meeting on equality issues in Denbighshire:
There were claims Councillor Mike Eckersley said he believed Hitler had the 'right idea' about moving travellers out of the country.

No doubt a resignation matter in my book especially as a Councillor colleague from an adjoining ward is of Romany descent!

This is yet another nail in the coffin of Ian Gunning's attempt to be elected Conservative Assembly member for Dyffryn Clwyd.

Wrexham says "Yes" - Council votes 34-7 to back greater powers for Assembly

The campaign for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly tonight received a huge boost when Wrexham Council became the first in Wales to support the move.

The decisive 34-7 vote is a dramatic about-turn for an area that voted narrowly against the Assembly back in 1997 and campaigners believe it sends a powerful signal that the Assembly is ready for an enhanced role.

The vote, which attracted cross-party support and among the many independent councillors in Wrexham, was a symbolic milestone according to the councillor who submitted the motion.

Councillor Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru's group leader on the council, said:
"In a little over 13 weeks, Wales will have a referendum on whether the Assembly should have law-making powers in the 20 devolved areas it already makes decisions about, including health, education and housing.

"At the moment, any laws made in Wales have to be scrutinised and approved of by both the House of Commons and House of Lords in London. This has led to delays of up to a year in approving some important legislation, so a 'yes' vote will speed up the democratic process and do away with the current cumbersome process."

He added:
"The referendum on March 3 is about making the Assembly work better for all communities in Wales - including ours. At the moment the Assembly operates like a boxer with one arm tied behind its back. Gaining the power to make laws without a Westminster veto will speed up decision making in wales.
"A yes vote has no cost implications for the council or at a national level. If won, it says we are maturing as a nation and able to take a step forward in enhancing our democracy.

"If lost, it says we are happy with the overly bureaucratic set up we currently have and it could have huge repercussions for Wales, especially at a time when we’re trying to defend services.

"It’s great to see Wrexham leading the way in supporting this move – we’re the first council in Wales to put forward such a proposal. I'm sure others will now want to pick up on this and I hope we'll see a snowball effect throughout the country."


The full motion reads:
"Wrexham Council supports full law-making powers within the devolved areas for the Welsh Assembly. This will speed up the democratic process in Wales and do away with the cumbersome process we currently have, for the benefit of both national and local government."

Wrecsam yn dweud "ie"

Rhoddwyd hwb enfawr i'r ymgyrch dros fwy o bwerau i'r Cynulliad nos Lun (22 Tachwedd, 2010) pan benderfynodd Cyngor Wrecsam gefnogi pleidlais "Ie" o 34-7.

Dyma'r cyngor cyntaf i wneud y fath benderfyniad ac mae'n symbolaidd mai ardal wnaeth bleidleisio o drwch blewyn yn erbyn y Cynulliad yn ôl yn 1997 sydd bellach ar flaen y gâd.

Mae ymgyrchwyr yn credu ei fod yn danfon neges bwerus bod y Cynulliad yn barod am rôl ehangach.

Mae'r bleidlais, a ddenodd gefnogaeth drawsbleidiol ac ymhlith y llu o gynghorwyr annibynnol yn Wrecsam, yn garreg filltir symbolaidd yn ôl y cynghorydd a gyflwynodd y cynnig.

Dywedodd y Cynghorydd Marc Jones, sy'n arwain grwp Plaid Cymru ar y cyngor:
"Mewn ychydig dros 13 wythnos, bydd refferendwm ynghylch a ddylai'r Cynulliad gael pwerau deddfu yn y 20 o feysydd datganoledig, gan gynnwys iechyd, addysg a tai .

"Ar hyn o bryd, mae gorchmynion cyfreithiol a wnaed yng Nghymru yn gorfod cael eu craffu a chymeradwyo gan Dŷ'r Cyffredin a Thŷ'r Arglwyddi yn Llundain. Mae hyn wedi golygu oedi o hyd at flwyddyn wrth basio rhai deddfau bwysig. Bydd pleidleisio 'ie' yn cyflymu'r broses ddemocrataidd ac yn gwneud i ffwrdd â'r broses drwsgwl sydd gennym ar hyn o bryd. "

"Mae'r refferendwm ar Fawrth 3 yn ymwneud â gwneud y gwaith y Cynulliad yn well i bob cymuned yng Nghymru - gan gynnwys Wrecsam. Ar hyn o bryd mae'r Cynulliad fel bocsiwr efo un fraich wedi'i chlymu tu ôl i'w gefn.

"Os bydd y bleidlais yn cael eu hennill, mae'n dangos ein bod yn aeddfedu fel cenedl ac yn abl i gymryd cam ymlaen er mwyn gwella ein democratiaeth.

"Mae'n braf gweld Wrecsam yn arwain y ffordd efo'r bleidlais gyntaf yma - ni ydi'r cyngor cyntaf yng Nghymru i gyflwyno cynnig o'r fath. Dwi'n siwr y bydd cynghorau eraill yn awr yn awyddus i wneud rhywbeth tebyg - mae yna rai cynghorwyr eisioes wedi cysylltu ac isio dilyn ein esiampl. "

Dyma union eiriad y cynnig:
"Mae cyngor Wrecsam yn cefnogi pwerau deddfu llawn i'r Cynulliad Cenedlaethol o fewn y meysydd datganoledig. Bydd hyn yn cyflymu'r broses ddemocrataidd yng Nghymru ac yn gwneud i ffwrdd â'r broses drwsgwl bresenno, er budd llywodraeth leol a chenedlaethol."

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Quote of the day

"Why can’t a Maori speaking councillor become leader of Cardiff council?"

- Harry Hayfield, Freedom Central

(The article calls for more diversity in Welsh local government by selecting candidates that reflect the local community. Is that why they chose the Northern Irish-born "comedian" of Estonian extraction for Montgomery?)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Threatened with Libel!

HT to @Caebrwyn on Twitter for this useful link to a guide published by Sense about Science of what to do if you're threatened with libel or defamation. This is a must read for all bloggers.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Tories target schools as Welsh budget delivers

The Welsh budget has performed a delicate balancing act, given the level of cuts imposed on Wales by the Tory-Lib Dem UK government.

We're still to hear the details for individual councils but the signs are more hopeful than anticipated. Of course there will be a standstill budget for the NHS over the next three years but, as we've flagged up here many times before over the past year, there is a desperate need to tackle the unaccountable senior management at health board level. It's a Plaid bandwagon the Lib Dems seem desperate to jump on board, if Kirsty Williams's appearance on Question Time is anything to go by.

What is unforgivable is the Tory posturing on this budget. The Tories want to ringfence the NHS budget and have tried to position themselves cynically as pro-NHS. In fact this would lead to 20% cuts in education, social care and other key services that have a direct and indirect affect on the health of the nation.

Datblygiadau Plaid Cymru yn Sir Conwy.

Gan fod na neb i weld yn blogio ryw lawer ar ran Plaid Cymru yn ochra Conwy meddylias y dylswn neud ambell i sylw. Fel y gwyddoch mae'n debyg fod Plaid Cymru yn arwain clymblaid Llafur, Rhyddfrydwyr Democrataidd a grwpiau Annibynnol gyda y grwp fwya, y Ceidwadwyr yn wrthblaid gyda 20 or 59 sedd ar y Cyngor Sir.

Mae grwp Plaid Cymru yng Nghonwy wedi tyfu'n raddol, a rwan hefo 15 o seddi yn dilyn buddugoliaeth Mike Rayner heno yn is etholiad Eglwysbach dros y Ceidwadwr, David Williams o 368 pleidlais i 145. Llongyfarchiadau mawr i Mike.

Chydig iawn o son sydd wedi bod am y Cynghorydd Susan Louise Lloyd - Williams, aelod dros Lansannan a etholwyd yn 2008, fel ymgeisydd Annibynnol,ond erbyn hyn mae Susan wedi canfod ei gwir gartref o fewn Plaid Cymru, a chroeso mawr iddi.

Llongyfarchiadau mawr i'r Cynghorydd Phil Edwards cyn ymgeisydd y Blaid yn Aberconwy a Gorllewin Clwyd ar gael ei ethol fel arweinnydd grwp y Blaid ar Gyngor Conwy.

Yn olaf dwi'n siwr ein bod yn llongyfarch Iwan Huws fel darpar ymgeisydd y Cynulliad yn etholaeth Aberconwy. Mae Iwan yn adnabyddus iawn i ni ym Mhlaid Cymru Wrecsam yn ei swydd flaenorol fel Cyfarwyddwr yr Ymddiriedolaeth Genedlaethol yng Nghymru; ond wnawn ni ddim son mwy am hyny rwan...mae gan bawb job o waith i'w wneud.

Kick in the teeth for Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin's power and influence is waning even in her home state of Alaska where she failed to unseat the incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. Ms Palin had endsorsed Joe Miller a Tea Party favourite to unseat Murkowski in the Republican primary election in August this year; Miller won the Republican nomination.

But fair does to Lisa Murkowski she wasn't one to give up and campaigned for Alaskan electors to 'write in' her name on the ballot papers in the November 2nd polling. Following weeks of counting write in votes and legal challenges (the spelling of Murkowski's name was subject of challenge) Murkowski regained her old Senate seat and she is the first candidate to be elected on 'write in' votes since Strom Thurmond won South Carolina in 1954.

I'm sure that the victory was particularly sweet for her after Palin had defeated Frank Murkowski (Lisa's father) for the Alaskan Governorship in 2006.

We can only wait to see whether Murkowski's experience with the Tea Party has pushed her from being a moderate Republican to the more extreme edges of the GOP!

Canrannau Diweithdra.

Diddorol iawn oedd darllen Blog Menai ac ystadegau diweithdra Cymru ar lefel awdurdodau lleol. Roeddwn wedi synnu braidd fod canran diweithdra Ynys Mon mor isel ar 3.9%; gyda 13 o Awdurdodau Lleol Cymru hefo canran uwch o'r boblogaeth yn ddi-waith.
Mae'r Derwydd o Ynys Mon wedi ceisio'n perswadio dros y misoedd diwetha am dlodi a'r anfantais ar diweithdra arswyd sydd ar yr ynys. Tydy yr ystadegau diweithdra ddim yn cefnogi be mae'r Derwydd yn ei ddeud, a tybed be fasa ganddo fo i ddeud am y sefyllfa yn Blaenau Gwent lle mae diweithdra yn 6.3%. Tydy blog y Derwydd yn gneud dim ond cyhoeddi gwybodaeth sydd yn gefnogol i'r Ceidwadwyr (a Peter Rogers) ac yn lladd ar Blaid Cymru a Ieuan Wyn Jones yn arbennig. Mae angen trin blog y Derwydd hefo'r dirmyg mae o'n haeddu.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Housing revenue injustice could end soon

Jonathan Edwards's Westminster campaign to right the Housing Revenue Subsidy injustice of the last decade seems to be bearing fruit.
The Plaid MP's campaign would certainly benefit Wrecsam, which has lost £100 million in the past 10 years to this madcap scheme. Money that should have gone on improving our housing stock has flowed into the UK Treasury to subsidise councils in England.

Housing cash ‘injustice’ may end soon

An “injustice” that has resulted in Wales losing £2bn in housing revenue over the last 20 years could end soon, a UK Government Minister has hinted.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards secured a House of Commons debate about the anomaly under which most Welsh councils have been forced to pay millions of pounds a year in council rents to the Treasury.

Under the little-understood arrangements, local authorities that got more money in council rents than they were allowed to spend on maintenance had to pay the excess to Treasury.

The system is due to be scrapped in England, but no announcement has yet been made about the future of the scheme in Wales.

Now, however, Treasury Minister David Gauke has confirmed that his Department will be discussing the matter with the Assembly Government.

Meanwhile Mr Edwards, who represents Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has identified a further anomaly under which part of the surplus housing cash has been given back to English councils but not to those in Wales. Mr Edwards has estimated that in the last five years, Wales has lost £443.1m because local authorities here have had none of the excess cash returned.

Mr Edwards said: “The whole history of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), set up by the Thatcher Government in 1989 as part of its assault on public housing, is one of systemic injustice as far as Wales is concerned.

“In 2000 in order to negate the effects of the HRA, the Labour UK Government introduced a new budget line called the Major Repairs Allowance. In an act of gross incompetence by Labour, critically it only applied to England. The Welsh Government introduced its own MRA in 2004 but as all devolved policies must be neutral on its impact on the Treasury, the funds had to come out of the Welsh government’s budget.

“The impact on housing in Wales is staggering.

“In response to my debate on this issue I’m glad that the UK Government has agreed to discuss reform of the iniquitous scheme with the Welsh government.”

The Major Repairs Allowance for Wrecsam is £7.8m, whereas we lose £11.3m to the UK Treasury.

Supporter-owned club issues community shares

Here's one option for football fans in Wrecsam, who want to guarantee a future for our club at the Racecourse.

FC United community share investment tops £500,000

Artist's impression for FC United’s proposed new stadium
Investment in FC United shares has topped the half million pound mark, less than two months after the community share issue was launched to help raise funds towards the development of a new stadium.

Sales of shares have been given a new impetus by the club’s first ever live televised game on 5 November, when the club beat Rochdale in the first round of the FA Cup before an audience of millions worldwide.

A further boost has come from HM Revenue & Customs which has given provisional assurance that those who buy £500 of shares can claim 20% back against tax under the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

FC United (www.fc-utd.co.uk), which was founded five years ago by Manchester United fans, currently plays at Bury FC’s ground but aims to create a permanent home close to United’s birthplace at Newton Heath, Manchester. The 5,000 capacity stadium will cost £3.5 million to build, of which £1.5 million will come from grant funding, with a further £500,000 from donations.

It hopes to raise as much as possible of the remaining £1.5 million through the community share issue, with any shortfall covered by debt funding. Investors can purchase £1 shares to a value ranging from £200 up to £20,000.

FC United is the first football club to issue community shares. The main aim of the shares is to provide investors with a social return by funding the football and community objectives of FC United, but the club’s business plan also provides for potential financial returns for shareholders.

Shareholders will not receive interest payments or be able to withdraw their investments for the first three years after the club moves into the new stadium, but it aims to pay small amounts of interest after that date. FC United’s one member one vote system will remain unaffected by the share issue.

So far hundreds of individuals have invested and the recent announcement about tax relief has already attracted one PLC and a major building contractor to invest.

Andy Walsh, FC United general manager, said: “We are delighted with the response to the community share issue, which has attracted both ordinary fans and wealthier investors alike. The tax relief alone offers a significant financial benefit – equivalent to a return of 6.5% for the first three years – and after that we aim to pay interest on the shares. Investors will also have the satisfaction of knowing that in raising funds for the stadium, they will be helping to secure the future of FC United and offer major social benefits for the local community.

“We aim to raise as much as possible through the share scheme. We are confident that there are many more supporters and business people willing to invest and urge them to do so as soon as they can.

“As the first football club to raise money in this way, we are pioneering a new model in football finance. We are inviting investors to join with us to change the way football is run by putting supporters at the heart of the game and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.”

Community shares cannot be traded or transferred like normal shares, but shareholders who want to withdraw their investment can apply to have their funds returned from the fourth year onwards. Subject to board agreement, the club will allow not more than 10 per cent of the total share capital to be withdrawn in any one year.

The offer is open to individuals aged 16 and over, and businesses. All shareholders must be members of FC United but non-members can join at the time of application. The offer closes on 30 November 2010.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Seven job seekers chasing every job in Wrexham

'Tories treat jobless like criminals'

There are seven job seekers chasing every job in Wrexham and Clwyd South, according to official statistics.

The latest government statistics show that there are 432 vacancies while there are 1,920 seeking work in Wxm constituency. Clwyd South is far worse - just 83 vacancies and 1,840 job seekers.

In total that's 3,760 people chasing just 515 jobs - there are more than seven people chasing each job.

Plaid Cymru's Assembly candidate Marc Jones said the statistics made nonsense of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition's plans to treat the jobless like criminals by making them sweep the streets or paint walls in the community for 30 hours a week. He said:
"We currently force offenders to take part in community payback schemes. What the coalition government is trying to do now is treat the jobless in the same way by making them do unpaid voluntary work such as road sweeping.

"There are many people on the dole through no fault of their own due to the massive job losses locally in the past couple of years. The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better if the public sector cuts take place. Yet these people are being targetted and punished in the same was as criminals."

He denounced the scheme as a gimmick, designed to appeal to the Daily Mail's right-wing agenda, rather than a serious attempt to address the unemployment problem. Mr Jones said:
"There may be a small minority abusing the system but that should not mean criminalising 4,000 people locally. There are many more people who may be facing an unwelcome period on the dole in the next couple of years and I don't think they will take kindly to being forced into unpaid work when they could be looking for an alternative job.

"I wonder how many streets there are to sweep in the area if the Tory-Lib Dem government is planning to give 4,000 a brush. The council already has street sweepers - is the Tory-Lib Dem coalition going to make them redundant so that we can have unpaid labour keeping our streets clean? The whole idea is a nonsense, a stunt that is trying to deflect attention from the brutal cuts the UK government is planning to make in places like Wales."

Plaid's Clwyd South Assembly candidate Mabon ap Gwynfor added:
"The loss of major employers such as Flexsys and AIr Products in Clwyd South has seen many people locally having to join the unemployment register. There are also many graduates leaving Glyndwr and other universities and unable to find work in these difficult times. Are we really saying that these people are best served by sweeping the streets?? The millionaires running the UK government have no concept of life on the dole and no idea about how to create the jobs we desperately need in this area."

Smokescreen by politicians over children's hospital services

Campaigners against the downgrading of Wrexham's Special Care Baby Unit should not to be fooled by a "political smokescreen".

That was the warning after the confusion caused by Labour AMs claiming the threat of closure had been lifted. At the same time both health minister Edwina Hart and the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board were saying that the review into maternity services across North Wales were ongoing until January 2011.

Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru's Assembly candidate for Wrexham, said:

"The strength of feeling about the maternity services in Wrexham, Glan Clwyd and Bangor has shaken Labour politicians, including Edwina Hart. If NHS bosses had come out and said 'no change' today I would accept that as a victory but we already knew the consultation had been extended and there's no clear statement that any of the three hospitals' services will remain as they are.

"The claims that the threat to the service has been lifted is just a smokescreen. The review is still ongoing and there is no certainty that the current full maternity service provided in Wrexham Maelor Hospital will continue.

"Among the options are downgrading the service to a midwife-led service with a consultant-led unit based in Glan Clwyd. Let's consider what that would mean. In the case of the Special Care Baby Unit, downgrading the service could mean moving Intensive Care Cots to Glan Clwyd.

"That option could mean that all first-time and 'complicated' births in Wrexham were automatically referred to Glan Clwyd. What happens when a 'normal' birth in the Maelor turns into an emergency and the mother and child have to be transferred up the A55? These are the questions that need answering.

"We need to know the truth about the future of the Special Care Baby Unit in Wrexham. We do not need politicians creating smokescreens to confuse and distract attention from the very real concerns people have about their NHS."

A minimum price for alcohol

Some supermarkets use cheap lager as a loss-leader to entice people into their stores - cans for as little as 23p in Asda being a case in point.
There is conclusive proof from Finland that cheaper alcohol leads to greater consumption and alcohol-related illness.
On health grounds alone there is a case - as is currently being made in Scotland - for a minimum price for alcohol to reduce alcohol abuse.
It could also have a knock-on effect of encouraging more people back into our community pubs, which are being killed off at a rate of knots by their inability to compete with the supermarkets and the high charges being levied by the pub chains in rent and tied beer agreements. Pub alcohol sales are 24.5% down on 2002 levels, while off-sales (in supermarkets and off-licences are up 12%). The GMB union, which organises pub landlords, estimates that a £1 on every pint in a tied pub goes to the company owners in rent and beer charges alone.
As a result of this squeeze, we are losing good pubs like the Walnut and Seven Stars while more and more teenagers are ending up drinking industrial-strength cider in the park.

Melltith Google Translate...eto!

Diolch i Elin Roberts am dynnu fy sylw at y Cymraeg gwallus yn nhafarn y Plas Coch yn Wrecsam, un o dafarndai cwmni Marston's. Newydd gael ei adnewyddu mae y dafarn sydd yn boblogaidd gyda myfyrwyr Prifysgol Glyndwr.

DIWEDDARIAD: Mae cwyn gan un o'n darllenwyr selog wedi denu ymateb gan gwmni Marston's, sy bia'r Plas Coch:

Subject: RE: Welsh sign
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2010 08:14:33 +0000
From: plascoch.wrexham@marstons.co.uk
To: xxx@hotmail.com


we are aware of this and the development team have it on their schedule to change

thank you

Diolch byth am hynny.

More on Peter Black's hypocrisy

Going by his blog this morning poor old Peter is getting really wound up by the National Union of Students and their threat to 'decapitate' leading Liberal MP's in constituencies with high student numbers. He goes on to try and justify the Liberal Democrat position on higher tuition fees by the need to compromise when in coalition government, he says:
Of course this is not what was in our manifesto. We put forward a six year programme that would have phased out fees altogether...The fact is that in a hung parliament scenario we need the agreement of other parties to get anything through.

This is one of Peter's longer blogs but I won't bore you with the rest; it just goes on an on in an attempt to blow everybody out of the water other than the 'honest' Lib Dems.

Whilst he justifies the Lib Dem position on tuition fees and the so called 'concessions', he is not quite so generous to other parties who find themselves in a difficult position over manifesto promises and coalition compromises. This is what Peter had to say on the 23rd February 2009 about Plaid Cymru's change of policy on top up fees:
And a broken promise as well. Plaid Cymru Ministers are set to allow Labour to introduce top-up fees in Wales despite the opposition of their own party.

Are there any principles they will not sell-out on to stay in government?

Update: More on this from Freedom Central here.

and again on the 25th February 2009:
A Welsh Noted translation of a Politics Cymru post reveals that Plaid Cymru Assembly Members are becoming more committed to the introduction of top-up fees for Welsh students despite their manifesto promises to the contrary. All is not sweetness and light within their group however:

In a press conference yesterday Elin Jones confirmed that she and her fellow Plaid ministers at the Assembly are planning to back the Government's plans to introduce top-up fees. This is in spite of the fact that the party voted against such a move in Aberystwyth on Saturday.

We also found out that two Plaid Assembly Members had asked to be excused from any future votes.........Elin Jones said that "the majority" of the Assembly group were supportive of the idea.

This has the potential to be very embarrassing for the party.

Terrible things blogs! they just come back to haunt you!

Oh and as a matter of interest I wish Welsh NUS students all the very best in their decapitation strategy, especially in Swansea, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth...need any help, give me a call!

This is why companies pay lobbyists

There are thousands of lobbyists employed to influence government policy at UK level. Some will be from charities and pressure groups but the vast majority - and the ones with the ability to wine and dine - are those employed by the large corporations.

Why do they bother to wine and dine obscure opposition MPs, you may think?

This story lays bare the reality.

Two paragraphs from Felicity Lawrence's excellent expose in the Guardian sum it all up. She describes a Tory meeting in 2009, laughably called the Public Health Commission, that was made up of leading members of the food and drink industry as well as Tory politicians:

Mark Leverton, policy director of Diageo, manufacturer of leading vodka, whisky and beer brands, joined them by phone.
Diageo, in fact, had closer links with the Lib Dems than the Conservatives – its corporate relations director, Ian Wright, was one of three people who paid donations directly into Nick Clegg's personal bank account to fund a researcher

Such meetings are part of a coordinated campaign by such bodies and this one has paid off with interest:

It must have felt like a new dawn for the food and drinks industries. After more than four years of determined and co-ordinated lobbying, they were about to achieve the corporate PR agency dream: being invited to write the policy themselves. And, if the Conservatives won the election, in Lansley they would have a health secretary who understood them.

He not only subscribed to the libertarian view that public health should be more a matter of personal responsibility than government action; he bought in to the whole pro-business PR view of the world. (At that time, Lansley was a paid director of the marketing agency Profero, whose clients have included Pepsi, Mars, Pizza Hut and Diageo's Guinness. He gave up the directorship at the end of 2009.)

These are the kind of politicians who we're regularly told "have experience of industry". Yeah, right.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Who wants City status?

Yes indeed, who wants city status? After reading this article in today's Western Mail I'm not sure what benefit Newport got from becoming a city:
It’s been a week to forget for Newport traders and residents as three major retailers announced their withdrawal from the city centre. CIARAN JONES asks what’s gone wrong so soon after the Ryder Cup was supposed to boost the city’s fortunes

IT SHOULD be the ideal location. Positioned between Cardiff and Bristol and sitting on the M4, Newport seems perfectly placed for prosperity.

But following the planned withdrawal of major retailers Marks & Spencer, Next and Monsoon, from the city centre traders this week clashed with politicians over the city’s future.

City council leader Matthew Evans and Newport East Assembly Member John Griffiths were among a panel that were questioned by retailers in an event organised by Newport Chamber of Trade.

Members of the audience heckled the speakers during the course of Thursday’s event – and the anger was still in evidence yesterday as city traders called on the council to act now to prevent a terminal decline.

Losing M&S, Next & Monsoon from a town not to mention a city would be a disaster. If we in Wrecsam were to go down to Newport to research the benefits of city status what would we find? Not much by all accounts! The argument for city status for Wrecsam has suddenly become very weak.

More Liberal Democrat Betrayal.

Now correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Peter Black and the Welsh Liberal Democrats the biggest critics of the One Wales Government's decision to plough ahead with a badger cull in Pembrokeshire recently?

But what Peter Black hasn't told us is that HIS Liberal Democrat MP's in Westminster are supporting James Paice the Tory Agricultural Minister to "halt animal welfare initiatives" which includes introducing a badger cull in areas of high bovine TB in England.

This is the front page story of today's Independent under the excellent headline, "The Great Animal Rights Betrayal"

I wonder if Peter Black will have the cheek to try and justify this decision!

Peter Black: not waving but drowning

You can always rely on Peter Black when his party is in crisis. He'll write an article slagging off Plaid.

So as the Fib Dems try to explain away their u-turn on tuition fees (apparently pre-planned it now emerges) and the ConDems' stunning decision to allow McDonalds and Pepsi to decide on health policy, Black clings to any straw in the wind.

Expect the Blackometer to continue in hysterical mode for the next six months as the Fib Dems continue to plummet in the polls. Maybe Black is worried about his own position atop the list in South Wales West.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Crusaders go into administration

Crusaders have gone into administration. Here's the official statement from the club:

Today (12 November 2010), the Welsh Super league club Celtic Crusaders Limited has entered administration pursuant to an application to the High Court of Justice, Leeds District Registry by the clubs shareholder. Peter O'Hara and Simon Weir of O'Hara & Co have been appointed as administrators.
Over the last year, the club has undergone financial difficulties including significant inherited debt which has made the business untenable.
Joint administrator Peter O'Hara commented: "There was a high level of support and enthusiasm towards Super League rugby in its first season in Wrexham which exceeded the club's expectations.
"We are currently pursuing a number of options and are talking to interested parties and the RFL in the hope that a solution can be found to the club's current difficulties which would enable it to go forward and maintain rugby league in Wales."
The administrators are being advised by legal firm Clarion.

From speaking to the administrator this morning, it appears that a draft sale document has been put together and the intention is to try to find an acceptable new owner as soon as possible. Most of the debt is related to the previous period down in Bridgend but the HMRC tax bill "accrued this year".

It's also unlikely that this administration will be anything like as costly as the WAFC administration period under Begbies, which eventually cost the club £1.5m in fees.

Let's hope the decision to go into administration will resolve the ongoing disputes regarding debt. Crusaders fans, players and coaches alike need financial stability so they can plan for the future - whether it's Iestyn buying players or fans investing in season tickets. The adminstrators have a track record of dealing with Rugby League clubs in this situation and I hope it will be a short-term situation that will see a new owner emerge to take the Crusaders forward to a higher level.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Plaid MP pushes to scrap housing subsidy rip-off for Wales

Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards MP calls debate on Housing Revenue Subsidy Scheme in Wales.

I've called a Westminster Hall debate today following shocking revelations about how the complicated Housing Revenue Account Subsidy (HRAS) system has been operating in Wales.

This system currently forces Welsh councils to pay back millions each year from their housing budgets to the Treasury.

It currently takes £100 million every year from Welsh Local Authorities, which results in a failure to address the real housing problems that exist locally, and acts as an incentive to stock transfer public housing.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have always been exempt, and now the system is set to be scrapped in England, precisely because it is utterly unfair.

Yet although the system is to be scrapped in England, it will continue in Wales – bizarrely and for no apparent reason.

Wales has lost out by over a whopping £2 billion in cash terms since the scheme was introduced in England and Wales. This is nothing less than a severe injustice.

The system has been criticised on the basis that tenants in well-managed authorities have effectively been subsidising those in areas where the council has not been running its housing account efficiently.

Councils that raise more from council rents than they spend in maintenance on those homes must send the surplus back to the UK government.

This system has stripped Wales of a staggering amount of money for too long. The Tories crippled Wales by placing them in the scheme and, scandalously, absolutely nothing was done to change the system under Labour, ensuring that we lost out on £1 billion between 1999 and 2011.

There is simply no justification for this to continue solely in Wales, with our local communities being specifically targeted in this way.

This money should be invested in our local economies to improve the condition of our housing stock and provide jobs and health benefits.

In my home county of Carmarthenshire, £5.7 million has been returned for this year and close to £51 million since 1999-2000.

This is outrageous, especially when I consider the amount of people that come into my constituency office looking for help with housing.

For Wales to have to continue to pay HRAS would be a great injustice.

I hope that raising this issue will mean that Conservative and Lib Dem MPs, not to mention the Labour politicians who seem to have been sleeping on the job for the past decade, will open their eyes to this disgraceful discrimination.

I have also tabled an EDM to garner support for the issue. The fact that the Treasury has allowed this situation to go on for so long is a complicated farce, but that does not mean this issue is not of vital importance.

£100 million every year could turn around the housing situation in Wales and that is why I'm championing this cause so forcefully.

Jonathan has been tireless in highlighting this issue since his election six months ago. Wrecsam Council is losing £11m from its Housing Revenue Account each year - money that could be used to improve council housing to the standard required. The sooner this unfair scheme is scrapped the better.

A letter from my MP

I rarely get letters from my MP but one arrived today.

It asks me to oppose the proposed cut in the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 30 under plans by the ConDem government. Unfortunately for Ian Lucas, a confirmed Unionist, he cannot have it both ways. The Tories want to create standardised sizes for constituencies across the UK and a Unionist should support such a move.

Mr Lucas opposes the move because he says it will reduce the "influence of Welsh MPs in Parliament".

Given the behaviour of many Welsh MPs in recent years, in holding up key Assembly legislation and having no influence at all on regressive government policies (e.g. war, ID cards, PFI, Trident, attacks on benefits and public services) I think we could do with a reduction in their influence.

Each MP is more expensive than an AM, despite AMs having responsibility for key constituency issues such as health, education, local authority and social care. Whether it's 40 or 30, the majority are whipped meekly into line by their London masters.

The only real voice of Wales is coming from the likes of Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards - who has tirelessly raised the issue of great housing housing benefit rip-off. Wrecsam loses £11.3m a year under this scheme and yet its own MP did nothing while in government and still does nothing in opposition.

While decisions about Wales are being made in London, we need MPs there. But, in the long run, all decisions about Wales should be made in Wales and we can do away with the additional expense of Welsh MPs.

Rally against the cuts - 4 December 2010

Transport going from Wrecsam / Pas o Wrecsam: 07747 792 441

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Kirsty v Carwyn!

This is the transcript of yesterday's First Minister's Questions where Kirsty Williams challenges the First Minister about Communities First. I was interested to see Carwyn Jones hold up Caia Park Communities First as some flagship organisation. If that is the best example he can give then Kirsty Williams is right the whole project has been an abject failure.

The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (Kirsty Williams):First Minister, I questioned you earlier this year about the Public Accounts Committee report on Communities First. The report set out clearly that Communities First had failed to deliver good value for money and that your Government’s management of the programme was largely to blame. It is neither the first nor the last report of its kind. You told me at the time that you would study the report carefully to see what changes, if any, needed to be made to the programme. What is the result of that investigation?

The First Minister: This matter is being taken forward by the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government. There have been some difficulties in some Communities First partnerships; that much is well known and public. What is important is that those problems are dealt with, and they have been dealt with. The entire scheme should not be damned because of those difficulties. It has been most successful in raising confidence and capacity in so many Welsh communities that were damaged by the economic policies of the 1980s.

Kirsty Williams:
With all due respect, in your previous reply, you undertook to look personally at the report and return with the results following your investigation. I am not surprised that you are unable to answer this afternoon. You have ignored the Public Accounts Committee report, and now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that your flagship project has led to only marginal improvement. Nine months ago, when I asked you about Communities First, you could not tell me how many jobs the programme had created. Can you tell me now?

The First Minister:
Communities First is a programme designed to create confidence and capacity. It is not a job creation scheme. If it were, you would no doubt accuse us of creating a simple job creation scheme. The reality is that the Lib Dems just do not like Communities First. They do not like anything that helps to build capacity and confidence in so many of our deprived communities, and that is all because of the position in which they have put themselves, in which they are trying to be even more right wing than the Tories. We have seen that again in the Chamber this afternoon.

Kirsty Williams: What the Liberal Democrats did not like was to see expectation in our most deprived communities being raised when, to great fanfare, you launched the Communities First project. I noted your answer expressing what you think Communities First is about. That totally contradicts what was said at the launch of the programme. The Minister at the time said that the goals of Communities First were to make long-term improvements to the lives of people in Wales’s less well-off communities. You said that your goal was to have better educational skills training, for more job opportunities, to improve health and wellbeing, and to make communities safer and more secure. That is what you said when you launched Communities First. Now you are saying that it was never meant to achieve any of those things, particularly job creation. Why have you failed to deliver on what you promised to those communities?

The First Minister: Selective deafness seems to have taken hold this afternoon. I said that it was not intended as some large job creation scheme. You would have accused us of creating a bureaucracy had we done that. Communities First has been very successful in all of the ways that it has developed communities in Wales. Go to Caia Park in Wrexham and speak to the people there, or to the other Communities First partnerships around Wales, where a tremendous amount of work has been done to lift communities out of the economic mire and the difficulties that they inherited from the 1980s as a result of economic policies that your party is now so keen to support.

Kirsty Williams:
First Minister, you cannot rewrite history. When you launched Communities First, you promised those communities more job opportunities, yet now you tell us that it was never intended to deliver them. There have been numerous reports on Communities First. The Wales Audit Office warned you at the very beginning that it would not work, nor deliver its objectives, unless you made significant changes. The Public Accounts Committee told you that Communities First had not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money that had been put into the scheme, and now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that your programme is delivering only marginal improvements. Are you seriously satisfied that spending £214 million delivers only marginal improvements? Will you now commit to bringing your Government’s evaluation of Communities First forward, before the election in May, so that the people of Wales can pass judgment on its record?

The First Minister:
Now we see the truth, do we not? When the budget is published next week, Communities First will be the first thing to be attacked; it will all be about taking away any hope that communities have of building their futures, their confidence and capacity. That will all be at the behest of the Liberal Democrats and the Tories here, who want to do as much as they can to destroy those communities once again, just as they did in the 1980s.

Kirsty Williams: You promised those communities better education and health outcomes and better job opportunities, and you have spent £214 million of Welsh taxpayers’ money failing to deliver on those promises. Do not lecture me on my attitude towards those poorest communities; I am interested in seeing those communities improve. Your Government has failed to improve them and has failed to deliver on the promises that you made to them.

The First Minister: God forbid that I should lecture Kirsty; she is much better at lecturing than I am. Yet again, we see an attack on Communities First, and an attack on any scheme that seeks to deliver equality for individuals and communities in our society, all because the two parties opposite want to cut as much money as possible. This Government will stand up for our communities, which suffered so much in the 1980s and 1990s, and will build them into vibrant communities once again, despite the attacks that have been made by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

I think Kirsty won that little spat 3 - 0 and got Carwyn riled in the process (very apparent on TV last night!)

Independent councillor defects to Plaid Cymru

Another breakthrough in the east!

A Powys Independent councillor has defected to Plaid Cymru and becomes its sole representative on the local authority.

Gary Price, who is also mayor of Llandrindod Wells, sits on the council's ruling board.

Mr Price has been an Independent for six years, but believes Plaid has the best policies to "take Wales forward".

Mid and West Wales AM Nerys Evans said she was delighted to welcome a new councillor into the party.

Mr Price said: "I am very happy to be representing Plaid Cymru within Powys County Council, and I will continue to work tirelessly for the people I represent in my area."

Referendum Motion - NAfW 9th November 2010

This is what the party leaders had to say when the referendum motion was moved in the Senedd yesterday:

Carwyn Jones.

...It is fair to say that it has not been an easy journey to get to this point. There have been a plethora of opinions on when the referendum should be held, and how to word the question that should be put to the Welsh public. I believe that we have reached sensible conclusions on both matters. The referendum question in the Order is the same revised question that the Electoral Commission put forward in its report, based on sound research and written in an accessible way. I believe that it is the right question to put to the people of Wales.

Many Members here today were concerned about whether the referendum would be held on the same day as the next Assembly election. The date of 3 March is, of course, two months before the Assembly election, which will provide sufficient distance between the referendum and the election. It means that the same Assembly Members who voted for a referendum in February can see the whole process through, and it also means that this Government can fulfil its 'One Wales’ pledge to proceed to a referendum as soon as is practicable.

Legislation that affects Wales should be made in Wales. That is the view of the National Assembly, I believe, and it is the view of the Assembly Government. This Order is an essential step towards achieving that aim, and, therefore, I commend the motion to the Assembly.

Nick Bourne
It is known that I do not always agree with the First Minister; we do not always see eye-to-eye on issues, as the exchange on fast broadband showed earlier today. However, I agree with him totally on this issue, and I think that the whole Assembly is in agreement on it. This is a historic moment, and I am sure that, as before, there will be full support for taking this forward, as it is important. We also support the points that have been made by the Counsel General.

It is important that we all unite behind the campaign, which will soon be up and running, to ensure that we get the 'yes’ vote that we need so that the Assembly can go forward and do the things that we want it to do. We do not necessarily agree on substantive issues, but on that we are in full agreement; we must make sure that that happens. This is a step along that road. I am glad that we have achieved the measure of agreement to which the First Minister referred, and, to be fair, Westminster has also played its part. Let us obtain full support for this, take this forward, and ensure that we are all united in the battle to achieve law-making powers, the success of which we cannot take for granted.

Kirsty Williams.
I will begin by saying how much I welcome the motion on the referendum Order before us today. I consider it an honour to be able to speak and, later this afternoon, vote, on a motion that marks the next stage in the devolution process. I hope that giving the citizens of Wales the opportunity to have their say on what the National Assembly can and cannot do will afford us the opportunity to get out there and celebrate collectively what devolution has delivered for Wales and to explore further what new powers for the Assembly could mean in terms of helping to transform our country.

Hopefully, when we vote on the motion today, all of the discussions about motions, amendments, timetables and Orders will come to an end. As the First Minister said, it has not been an easy process to get to this point this afternoon, but we have got there in the end. The date and wording of the question in the referendum Order have been worth all of the effort that people have made to get us to this point. However, as other speakers have said, we cannot rest on our laurels following the vote this afternoon. There is a job to be done in getting out there to explain to people what the referendum is about and, I suspect, what it is not about, and to give them the opportunity to hear what we hope we can do with the new powers should they give us the opportunity to use them in the forthcoming Assembly.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of those from across the political spectrum and from outside it who are beginning work on the embryonic 'yes’ campaign. I am very grateful for the efforts that are already happening in that arena. As the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I am proud to say that our party will be working alongside other political parties and those outside politics to explain to people why we should vote 'yes’ in March next year and give the next generation of Assembly Members the ability to carry out their work in a way that will be less constrained than that in which we have been working over the last four years.

I wonder how much notice rank and file members of these parties will take of their leaders and collectively campaign for a YES vote?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Crazy and clueless Welsh Tories.

In a press conference at the Assembly this morning the Welsh Conservatives announced that they would 'ring fence' the Welsh health budget at 40% of the total Welsh Government settlement. This shows a total lack of understanding of health in Wales. The effect of this will be to REDUCE the monies available to Social Care which is the biggest spend by Welsh local authorities. The main priority of Adult Social Care Departments throughout Wales is to assist people to live in their own homes, independence and reablement. The effect of this local authority priority is that less older people are spending months 'bed blocking' in hospitals.

But the effect of this 'off the wall' policy will be to reduce funding to Local Authorities, less to Adult Social Care Departments who will be unable to provide services and support to older people in their homes who will then go into hospitals, nursing homes or care homes placing greater pressure on all budgets including the ring fenced health budget. Ring fencing will mean that there will be MORE unecessary bed blocking in hospitals

What should be happening is that more of the health budget should be apportioned to care in the community rather than acute services and every time a local authority facilitates a vulnerable person to remain in their own homes then health should contribute to the cost of that person remaining in their own home rather than in hospital.

Vaughan Roderick and Helen Mary Jones have more to say on this.

Gas Plants and Carbon Capture and Storage.

This story from yesterday's Guardian is yet again good news for Wrecsam Council who are considering building a Gas Power Station on the Wrecsam Industrial Estate to generate electricity for the hundreds of companies that are located there. A part of the £9 billion pounds earmarked for Carbon Capture and Storage would be very welcome and will go a long way to preventing carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere from this gas plant. Pressure should be brought on Chris Huhne to bring CCS technology forward for Gas Power Stations before 2020.
Gas plants will be eligible for the government's £9bn carbon capture demonstration programme, Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, will announce tomorrow. The programme had only been open to coal plants, which in future will be required to fit the technology to capture and store emissions rather than release them into the atmosphere.

The move follows a warning from an independent body, the Committee on Climate Change, that the UK will miss its target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 unless gas plants are subject to the same new emissions controls as coal. But Huhne will stop short of endorsing the committee's other recommendation to fit gas plants with the technology after 2020. Huhne will say only that new emissions controls will not apply to gas in the "short and medium term", although this leaves the door open for tougher action in a decade.

Huhne will say: "Today the government is reasserting its mission to lead the world on carbon capture and storage (CCS), by opening our funding process to what could be one of the first ever commercial-scale CCS projects on a gas-fired plant in the world. The UK looks set to rely on gas for years to come. We won't be able to take the carbon out of all gas plants overnight, but we hope to support the process by investment in new technology now."

Last month the government finally committed £1bn to building the first coal plant to demonstrate the CCS technology. It plans to subsidise up to three more projects, including one gas project, through a consumer levy, but there are serious doubts about when the funds will be made available.

Currently, about one third of the UK's generation capacity comes from gas plants, but this is expected to double later this decade as old coal and nuclear plants close. The emissions controls have in effect placed a moratorium on building coal plants, which means that new "unabated" gas plants will be built instead. Coal plants emit about twice as much carbon as gas.

Joss Garman from Greenpeace said: "To introduce new legal limits on pollution from power stations that exclude emissions from gas plants is like introducing rules for alcohol intake but excluding beer. Allowing gas plants to keep polluting indefinitely is perverse and represents a real threat to UK efforts to beat climate change."

Quote of the day

"For all the blather about empowerment the biggest problem facing ConDem transparency is that you can see right through it."

from Inside Out - a Jaxxland perspective

Monday, 8 November 2010

Wrecsam Council powers ahead with PV panel scheme

Wrecsam Council could lead the way in terms of using its assets to generate electricity - and providing much needed work as well. This report provides an interesting assessment:

Councils’ assets could power a much-needed funds boost

CASH-STRAPPED Welsh councils could land a £1bn windfall if they use their assets to generate electricity, according to expert forecasts.

Local authorities recently gained the right to sell electricity to the National Grid. Now they can cash in on generous 25-year payments for all electricity produced by new microgeneration equipment.

One council alone stands to receive almost £35m of net payments, simply by fitting solar panels to less than a third of its housing stock and 13 other council-owned buildings.

If Wales’ other local authorities matched Wrexham council’s plans, the 22 authorities would collectively receive £760m of new income over 25 years.

Wrexham’s calculations exclude reductions in energy bills, thanks to the free electricity available at each solar-fitted building. The total windfall, including those savings, could be about £1bn. The annual electricity bill for Cardiff County Hall alone is about £500,000.

Wrexham’s executive board will decide next week whether to approve the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of 3,000 of the council’s 11,000 homes. The £26m estimated cost would be outweighed by £56m of income over 25 years.

Wrexham officers believe PV on 13 other council buildings, including schools, offices and leisure centres, could produce £4.6m net income.

Phil Walton, Wrexham’s strategic and performance director, said: “The added benefit is that using the energy generated by the panels is expected to significantly reduce the energy bills for those buildings.”

He said the unit price for electricity under the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) would reduce for installations registered from April 2012, and FIT may not apply at all to installations registered after March 31, 2013.

Councils are also exploring other eligible technologies. Torfaen expects to receive income of between £17,000 and £30,000 per annum for electricity produced by a new stream-powered turbine near Blaenavon. Cardiff council is investigating hydro power at the weir it owns on the Taff at Radyr, as well as other options.

Caerphilly council aims to erect two wind turbines at Oakdale business park which would generate enough electricity for 2,400 homes.

Caerphilly also plans to burn methane from decomposed rubbish at its Llanbradach landfill site to generate electricity. Many councils collect new organic waste separately from other refuse, and the biogas given off by that waste could generate electricity qualifying for FIT payments.

A wind turbine and solar panels at Ysgol y Traeth, Barmouth, already supply electricity to the grid and are expected to produce almost £2,000 of income a year for the school, as well as cutting energy bills. Head teacher Ywain Myfyr said other schools should consider doing the same.

This month, Flintshire council’s executive will discuss a report identifying options for FIT projects. Energy manager Will Pierce said the council had already provided a wind turbine, at Flint High School, and eight PV installations funded with Government grants.

Solar-power expert Prof Stuart Irvine said the FIT was expected to repay investors’ outlay on microgeneration equipment within 10 or 12 years.

“I think it’s likely they could get a return in a shorter timescale, but the point is it’s guaranteed. If you invest money today in the stock market, you’re not guaranteed a return within 10 years,” said Prof Irvine, of Glyndwr University’s Centre for Solar Energy Research.

“Local authorities have to make decisions on how they invest in infrastructure. We don’t want councils taking unnecessary risks. This is a safe bet because it’s Government-guaranteed for 25 years.”

He could not estimate councils’ potential FIT windfall, but said: “The scale Wrexham council is talking about could be replicated across Wales, without too much difficulty. We’re looking at the tip of an iceberg. You can see the potential is huge if you look at all the roof areas of domestic and public buildings.”

New nuclear power stations would not produce electricity for a decade. Microgeneration was a quicker way to cut carbon emissions from power stations burning fossil fuels, he added.

Wrexham’s move comes at a time of growing concern over council budgets in Wales as a result of public sector cuts.

Tim Peppin, of the Welsh Local Government Association, said it would highlight the FIT to councils not already considering it. However, some authorities might have difficulty funding the equipment up front, and some would have fewer options than Wrexham because they had transferred their housing to social landlords.

Numerous companies offer to provide microgeneration equipment in return for part of the proceeds. Wrexham council officers considered that option, but say the council should install its own solar panels using funding sources such as “prudential borrowing” and “invest to save”.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Jackie Baillie.

Jackie Baillie is Scottish Labour's Health Spokesperson or the opposition's spokesperson on health. In Saturday's Scotsman, Baillie calls for an amalgamation of the various health board's and trust's in Scotland so as to make savings, and she goes on to say,
"In tough financial times, we need to make sure that our focus is on patient care and every penny is spent in the most efficient way.

"It is impossible to justify 22 separate health boards in a country the size of Scotland."

Fine words no doubt; but we've heard them all before in Wales...exactly 12 months ago to be exact, when Edwina Hart amalgamated 22 Local Health Boards into seven Health Boards and in the process protected the pay of those who were left without jobs for 10 YEARS. There is no evidence whatsover that the amalgamations in Wales realised ANY financial savings or economies of scale. Clearly Jackie Baillie is of the same ilk as Edwina Hart and will just plough ahead without learning any lessons. I would urge my favourite Scottish politician the Health Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to exercise extreme caution before she considers such a proposal.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Labour win by-election!

Labour's Sherry Edwards took the vacant seat in Prestatyn Central ward follwing the death of Independent member John Morris. The result was:

Sherry Edwards (Labour) 407
Michelle Pope (Tory) 361
Gary Bourne (Ind) 111

At the 2008 election Conservatives took 2 of the 4 seats in the ward where Labour didn't even have a candidate. The result was:

Peter Charles Duffy (Ind) 694 (Elected)
June Cahill (Tory) 665 (Elected)
Margaret A Horobin (Tory) 576 (Elected)
John Morris (Ind) 485 (Elected)
Graham J Perceival (Tory) 437
Matthew Curtis (Tory) 432
Paul Penlington (LD) 296

This is a bad result for the Tories and probably explains the absence of the Dyffryn Clwyd Tory candidate, Ian Gunning from the Tories's one day conference in Llandudno on Saturday.