Saturday, 31 July 2010

Wrecsam's Open Primary.

I had a particularly interesting morning attending the Tories's Open Primary at the Ramada Plaza in Wrecsam, but the turnout of twenty six people was particularly disappointing especially as the Aberconwy selection process had attracted a 150 people.

The audience were invited to submit written questions to the 'independent' moderator who would put the questions to the candidates but none of the candidates were asked to address the audience directly. This gave the impression that the process was being stage managed with the moderator choosing the questions, and as it turned out the questions were bland and superficial with little opportunity for the candidates to express innovative independant thought.

There was one question which was challenging, and caught candidates out, and that was a question on biodiversity. None of the three answered the question particularly coherently but the Councillor from Basingstoke, Ranil Jayawardena did have a better grasp of agricultural policy and the relationship between Wales and Europe than did the other two candidates who are Welsh based. The succesful candidate, John Marek had a worryingly lack of knowledge of all aspects of biodiversity whether it be renewable energy or agriculture.

As for other questions it was all very predictable stuff about cutting waste in health and education...they just followed the national line.

One thing that did come as a surprise was Dr Marek's praise of Wrecsam Council and the excellent work it was doing compared to the previous Labour run Council, but it was all playing to the audience as 4 of the 26 votes available were County Councillors and part of Wrecsam's coalition!. When asked how he would encourage greater spend in Wrecsam he mainly batted the responsibility off onto the Council going on about the importance of 'localism.'

There was nothing in Marek's answers to convince the audience that he had thought through any strategic plan on what he would do for Wrecsam if elected. Marek's lack of preparation for this process was exemplified by his particularly poor hand written CV compared to the other two candidates detailed and informative biographies. My perception on reading Marek's CV was that he didn't need to try and the job was his by right, it was conceited.

The one area that Marek did go out on a limb on was the fact that he favoured Scottish style tax raising powers for the Welsh Assembly which is probably a new one for the Welsh Conservatives. The response to this question by Julian Thompson-Hill was mixed, he did favour greater powers but only when the National Assembly could handle the powers they had better!

My assessment of the three candidates were that Ranil Jayawardena was out in front, with Marek a poor second and Thompson-Hill a poor third.

On the first ballot none of the candidates had over 50% but Julian Thompson-Hill was eliminated and John Marek won on the second ballot, the numbers weren't disclosed but it was very close.

To sum up, there is very little enthusiasm for Marek amongst rank and file Tories and as one prominent Tory admitted to me that he was, "shell shocked" by the result.

I don't think Tory grass root supporters will be queuing up to help Marek's campaign next May.

Breaking news: Marek chosen by Tories

John Marek has been chosen to fight the Wrecsam constituency in the Assembly elections after an open primary this morning.

He failed to win an overall majority against a district councillor from Basingstoke and a Prestatyn county councillor but won on the second round.

This is going to be fun...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Late conversion to Living Wage campaign welcomed

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the late conversion of Labour leadership contenders to the campaign for a Living Wage - just four years after Plaid backed moves to raise pay for the lowest-paid workers.

Plaid Cymru made the comments as Wrexham MP Ian Lucas hosted a meeting with one of the Labour leadership contenders Ed Miliband to win support locally.

Cllr Marc Jones, leader of the Plaid group on Wrexham Council, said:
"It's always welcome that Labour joins the broad campaign to improve the lot of low-paid workers. The Living Wage has won a lot of support in Wales and much of the credit for that is down to TCC, the campaigning community charity based in Wrexham.

"Back in 2007 Plaid supported the TCC and Unison campaign to introduce a Living Wage in the Assembly and Plaid locally has also played a part - again alongside Unison - in pushing the local council to raise the two lowest pay bands as a step towards a Living Wage. Labour councillors voted against that agreement.

"The question I'd ask of Ian Lucas and Ed Miliband is why they didn't see fit to introduce this Living Wage when they had the chance during their 13 years in power in London? Labour lost power because it deserted working-class people and trying to jump on this bandwagon so late in the day is pure hypocrisy."

He added that the Welsh Assembly already has a Living Wage policy for all staff, so everyone is paid at least 15% more than the existing minimum wage. Cllr Jones added that the London Assembly had also introduced a similar scheme for its workers as had Manchester City Council.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hope not Hate!

Day by day the violent and racist English Defence League are becoming more dangerous. This shocking video exposes the truth behind this self professed "peaceful" group. Watch this video and then share it with everyone you know:

Quote of the Day.

That you may retain your self respect, it is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong.

William J. H. Boetcker (1916)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Mindless vandals smash bus shelter

This is the latest in a spate of irresponsible vandalism being caused in Ruabon and the surrounding area.

Councillor Barrie Price, seen here helping to clear up, said: "One of the bus shelters in my ward was targeted with a pellet gun, shattering two of the glass panels, leaving a dangerous hazard for those using the bus stop. This is mindless vandalism, which is costing £80 per panel to replace.

"Fortunately, the cost is offset by the weekly rental received from the advertisement company using the site. The glaziers are being kept fully occupied replacing the panels, but this situation cannot be allowed to continue. This latest incident has been reported to the police, and ongoing investigations are taking place."

Historic terrace wins temporary reprieve from demolition

posted by Plaid Ruabon

At last night’s planning committee meeting, Grenville Terrace, Ruabon, an impressive example of a stone Victorian terrace, with an older stone perimeter wall was temporarily saved from demolition. The committee unanimously voted to defer their decision to await further negotiations between the developer and the Planning Dept on the number of houses to be built on the site.

Councillor Barrie Price the adjoining ward member, in his submission to the committee asked them to consider carefully the conflict between his statements, and that of the Chief Planning Officer’s conclusion in the report, and why CADW have refused to list these dwellings.

Hopefully, the whole matter of why these properties were not originally included in the Ruabon Conservation Area Character Assessment and Management Plan will be looked into. At last week's Executive Board meeting Councillor Price successfully argued that the terrace with its long narrow front gardens, and the rear lane should be included in the Conservation Area.

However, this decision will trigger a new consultation process, which if successful would mean Conservation Area consent would be required for the demolition of these unlisted buildings, as they would be within the conservation area.

Unfortunately, as this process is likely to take up to six months, the Chief Planning Officer stated that the developer could demolish the terrace at any time before they are included into the Conservation Area. Maybe one reason the terrace was not included in the first place was that the report stated “the site lies outside and is presently well detached from the Ruabon Conservation Area”, whereas, being only a short distance from the railway station, which is in the Conversation Area, Grenville Terrace is relatively close by.

I am however grateful to the Chair of the Planning Committee, who expertly summed up the debate, by suggesting that perhaps a solution may be for the developer to liaise with the Planning Dept, for the erection of four new properties, the same number as currently occupy the site, and use as much of the stone from the demolition as possible in the new build.

I’m hopeful that when the committee reconvene after the summer break, this will be the outcome.

Monday, 26 July 2010

High street buses

Pressure is growing to change the way traffic uses Wrecsam's high street.

It's currently semi-pedestrianised and limited to buses, blue-badge holders' parking and loading at certain times. But there are regular abuses by other drivers and buses have stopped using the high street due to hold-ups caused by cars blocking the road through poor parking.

Plaid councillors have been lobbying for a change in the high street since bus companies withdrew services that were used by Caia and Whitegate residents to get to town. This had a drastic affect on the town's markets, who reported a dramatic drop in the number of visitors.

Now senior highways officers have acknowledged that changes need to be made.

Plaid councillors Marc Jones and Carrie Harper want to ensure that the high street improves in terms of accessibility for the public by working with all interested parties.

Cllr Marc Jones, of Whitegate ward, said:

"I've spoken twice to the owner of one of the bus companies that withdrew its services from the high street due to regular delays in the service caused by traffic congestion. He has confirmed that the bus company would return to the high street if there were changes to the parking arrangements to ensure smooth passage of buses.

"What we need now is a thorough consultation that involves the bus companies, traders and businesses in the high street area, blue-badge holders, bus users and everybody else who wants to see the heart of the our town thriving. Everyone needs to have an input so we get the best possible deal."

His colleague Carrie Harper, of Queensway ward, added:

"Many residents from our area lost out when the bus service stopped using the High Street. It's clear that traders and shops in the area also lost custom and we want to ensure that all options are on the table for the interests of all."

A meeting of all High street shopkeepers and traders will also be held in September to assess the need for change from their perspective.

Free bus travel - how does WAG monitor bus companies?

The Western Mail reports that "the cost of Wales’ free bus travel scheme for older people has increased so rapidly that there is no money left over to help teenagers travel to training or jobs."

It goes on:

"Assembly Government payments to bus operators for free carriage of over-60s have more than doubled in six years to £66m – while passenger journeys on buses increased by just 7.8%.

"New figures also indicate that from 2007-08 to 2008-09, there was no increase in passenger journeys in Wales, but WAG paid 15.8% more to bus firms under the free travel scheme."

That would suggest that pensioners are replacing regular paying travellers. Is that really the case?

One obvious question that needs to be posed is to what extent individual bus companies are monitored on their claims to WAG. It would be unfair to blame all companies but the number of free bus travellers is down to each individual bus driver. How can WAG be certain how accurate these figures are?

The need for more public transport throughout Wales has never been greater with the cost of fuel, low wages and unemployment making private car travel prohibitive for many.

Scottish-style powers

Alwyn posts an interesting blog about his participation in a focus group on the coming referendum on Assembly powers.
He's correct to point out that there is more popular support for Scottish-style powers than what is on offer under the current Peter Hain cop-out. His Government of Wales Act was an attempt to kick devolution into the long grass.

Back in December 2009 I wrote: "A far better solution would be to scrap the Government of Wales Act 2006, which insists on this referendum, and allow a new vote on Scottish-style powers."

Alwyn states that the Tories plan to reform the GoWA to change the need for Westminster and Assembly constituencies to have similar boundaries. If that's the case, other aspects of the GoWA can be reviewed.

The need for those greater powers has never been greater.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Daily Star - a journalistic joke

In one of the most abject apologies every issued in a UK daily paper, the Daily Star has had to admit it failed to do the most basic of journalistic checks before publishing a sensationalist story claiming the makers of Grand Theft Auto were about to produce a

On 21 July we published an article claiming that the video games company Rockstar Games were planning to release a version of their popular Grand Theft Auto video games series titled "Grand Theft Auto Rothbury".

We also published what we claimed would be the cover of this game, solicited comments from a family member impacted by the recent tragedy and criticised Rockstar Games for their alleged plans.

We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story. We also did not question why a best-selling and critically acclaimed fictional games series would choose to base one of their most popular games on this horrifying real crime event.

It is now accepted that there were never any plans by Rockstar Games to publish such a game and that the story was false. We apologise for publishing the story using a mock-up of the game cover, our own comments on the matter and soliciting critical comments from a grieving family member.

We unreservedly apologise to Rockstar Games and we have undertaken not to repeat the claims again. We have also agreed to pay them a substantial amount in damages which they are donating to charity.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Cardiff Central.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats were quick enough to pick up on last week's Western Mail story about Neil McEvoy, Bethan Jenkins and Myfanwy Davies and this week's resignation of John Dixon as national chair of Plaid Cymru for political and personal reasons. Some Liberal Democrat bloggers believe that all this is indicative of a serious crisis within Plaid Cymru.

So what is going on within the Welsh Liberal Democrat camp; well nothing if you read their blogs but on the other hand the story that Cllr Nigel Howells a cabinet member on Cardiff City Council has beaten his boss Cllr Rodney Berman, Leader of Cardiff City Council to the Cardiff Central nomination to replace Jenny Randerson AM is most certainly newsworthy. Barring a disaster for the Lib Dems they should hold onto the Cardiff Cemtral seat with Nigel Howells as the next AM.

Isn't it surprising that neither Freedom Central or Peter Black have seen fit to blog on this very worthwhile and interesting story and the tension that will now invariably exist in Cardiff City Council's cabinet.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Llais Gwynedd.

Mae Llais Gwynedd yn dechrau costio'n ddrud i Gyngor Gwynedd mewn costau etholiadol. Llai na bythefnos yn ol roedd is etholiad yn Stiniog i lenwi sedd yn dilyn carchariad ag ymddiswyddiad Gwilym Euros Roberts; daliodd Llais Gwynedd ei gafael ar y sedd yny o bedair o bleidleisiau. Rwan clywn fod Cynghorwr arall Stiniog sef Dafydd Lloyd Hughes wedi ymddiswyddo am resymau personol. Felly dyma ni is etholiad ddrud arall yn y Stiniog. Beth ar y ddaear sydd mynd mlaen o fewn Llais Gwynedd? Gan pwy gawn ni'r stori lawn gynta...yr Hen Rech Flin neu Blog Menai... neu hwyrach, Blog Answyddogol Dyfrig?

John Dixon and Scientology.

Cardiff City Council's Lead Member for Social Services, Councillor John Dixon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. As he passed a branch of the Church of Scientology in Tottenham Court Road in June this year John 'tweeted'
"I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

Pretty innocuous stuff I would say, and as John says in his Newsnight interview a lot worse has been said about the Church of Scientology by others including Judges.

However the point is, a member of the church has taken umbrage at the comment and reported him to the Ombudsman, who has found that John has a cae to answer under the Code of Conduct and has referred the matter to the City Council's Standards Committee.

I think the Ombudsman's decision is flawed on several counts, firstly and even though John tweets as Councillor John Dixon this comment was made in London whilst he was on a shopping trip and was not connected to his role as a County Councillor.

Secondly, the Ombudsman has to apply a two stage test, the first test is whether a breach of the Code of Conduct had taken place and secondly. whether the breach alleged would likely to lead to a sanction by the Standards Committee. If the Ombudsman believes that the sanction imposed by a Standards Committee would be no higher than a censure then the Ombudsman can use his/her discretion in investigating.

It is doubtful whether John Dixon's alleged breach of the Code of Conduct would have resulted in a sanction higher than a censure and as such the Ombudsman should have exercised his discretion not to investigate.

Labour's Manifesto

This is Labour's manifesto (cartoon style) for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections in May 2011:

Source: Scots Independant.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Regulation US style.

The United States government have never been particularly enthusiastic about the regulatory state but on this occasion they have beaten the UK hands down by signing into law a robust Financial Regulation Bill, the most robust piece of financial regulation in the US since the Great Depression in the 1930's:

This is how the Washington Post broke the story:
President Obama signed into law a bill that will reshape oversight of the U.S. financial industry. The legislation includes the creation of a new consumer protection agency, sets new limits on banks using capital for trading and investing in hedge funds, and gives the government power to close down troubled financial firms.

“These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history," the president said. "And these protections will be enforced by a new consumer watchdog with just one job: looking out for people — not big banks, not lenders, not investment houses in the financial system."

Congratulations to President Obama for his courage in taking on 'big business' in this fashion. Will the Con Dems have the courage to do the same?

Who gets to adopt?

I find it hard to believe this story where Merthyr Tudful Council are alleged to have barred Adam Brown an UKIP Councillor from adopting children because he is an elected representative on the Council. All local authorities have Adoption/Fostering panels made up of specialists as well as elected members who decide whether an applicant(s) are suitable to foster or adopt children. There are Councillors who are foster parents to children who were placed by their own Authorities and there are no policies to prevent this from happening.

There is obviously more to Merthyr's decision than meets the eye.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Hedge Funds.

Sorry to harp back to the same issue of the destructiveness of hedge funds and short selling which is basically gambling our money away. I have blogged here, here and here about Hedge funds and their contribution to the financial crisis and the recession. The Hedge Fund managers don't seem to have learnt any lessons whatsover from their destructive behaviour, they are now busy speculating around the prices of commodities especially foodstuffs. Not only are they affecting thr incomes of poor third world farmers but also forcing up the prices of coffee and other foodstuffs in the West and pushing up inflation at the same time. What is worrying is that these speculators can have a detrimental effect on the global economy and the Con Dem government have no more interest in regulating these speculators than Labour. Angela Merkel has shown the way in Germany but she hasn't gone far enough. Even Barack Obama has succeeded in passing a Financial Regulation Bill which will go some way to curbing these speculators.
Why are the Con Dems like Labour so reluctant to regulate these cowboys, nothing to do with the fact that most Hedge Funds are based in London is it.

The Open Primary

The Welsh Conservative Party have decided to use the open primary system to select their candidates for the Wrecsam and South Clwyd constituencies, see the following advert:

The South Clwyd primary is at the Bryn Hywel Hotel, Llangollen at 6pm on Tuesday 3rd August 2010. To register for South Clwyd email:

What does this advert tell you about the Welsh Tories? First of all this is a nomination process for the National Assembly of Wales, and one would have thought the advert would have been bilingual. Secondly, since when is David Cameron leader of the Welsh Conservatives; I always thought it was Nick Bourne...or even Cheryl Gillan. It's nice to see that the Welsh Tories are as confused over devolution now as they were in 1999.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


As a committed advocate of windfarms as a source of renewable energy I was particularly concerned when I read this story in today's Scotsman which indicates that Scottish windfarms have only provided half the energy they were expected to provide this year; 17% instead of 30%. With this being such a topical issue along the North Wales coast with the Gwynt y Mor windfarm perhaps we as local politicians should be more challenging as to exactly how much power large scale windfarms will generate and are they a cost effective way of delivering renewable power. I suppose the only problem being is that planning consent for such development are not devolved to the Welsh Government, and we have no control over the development of our own natural resources; a point made by Hywel Williams here.

BNP and Marmite.

Great news that the BNP are on the verge of bankruptcy following a legal action by Unilever against them for breach of copyright when they used the Marmite brand in an election broadcast without permission. It is rumoured that a court has ordered the BNP to pay somewhere between £70,000 and £170,000 to Unilver.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Denny's is a US based family restaurant chain which has recently announced that they will open franchises in the UK and create thousands of jobs. Dennys claim this is because of the reduction in Corporation tax rates over the next few years. This is what they said:
Major US family restaurant chain Denny's has announced plans to expand into the UK market and create thousands of new jobs.
The company's initial targets are for 30 franchised outlets in Manchester and a similar number in the West Midlands but it is planning to have restaurants opening across the country within two years.
Denny's has a £1.47bn turnover from 1,550 outlets worldwide, 90% of which are franchised. Franchisees will be expected to pay around £1m for an outlet.
The firm pointed to changes in taxation announced in the Government's emergency Budget and growing business confidence as reasons for choosing the UK.
Steve Dunn, Denny's executive in charge of development, said: "Our brand is probably just as well known by English families as it is in Florida and California, as they make up one of the largest groups of diners that we see in Disney World.
He added: "Following the recent emergency budget and the lowering of corporation tax, we see a bright future in the UK. This is a big incentive for our new franchisees, who will enjoy one of the best known restaurant brands in the world."
Turnover in Denny's US restaurants averages £1.1bn every year.

Plaid Cymru have long advocated a reduction in corporation taxes to encourage businessess to relocate as have Northern Ireland politicians so that the North of Ireland can compete with the 12.5% rate of Corporation tax in Eire.

This announcement seems to suggest that a relatively modest cut in Corporation Tax can have an impact on job creation, so imagine what a Welsh Government with tax varying powers like Ireland could achieve. Now I appreciate that most of the jobs created will be low paid as are many in the public sector but they are still jobs. Let's hope that Dennys won't be long in coming to Wales; that is of course unless Edwina Hart's 'regulation gone mad' policies succeeds in banning Dennys from selling food to the poor unsuspecting over regulated people of Wales.

Tax the bankers not the poor

Jonathan Edwards continues to make waves in his first few months as a Plaid MP. Plaid is the only mainstream party challenging the bosses' line that "we're all in it together". No we're not in it together when a tiny minority have still got enough money to pay themselves huge bonuses and continue to send Tarquin and Samantha off to public school at at outrageous fees.

Plaid call for Robin Hood tax to replace VAT hike

Plaid Cymru MPs have laid amendments to the Finance Bill which would introduce a Robin Hood Tax on bankers as an alternative to the regressive hike in VAT which will hit the poorest hardest.

The Finance Bill is due to be debated on the floor of the House of Commons early next week.
Plaid Cymru treasury spokesperson, a Robin Hood Champion, Jonathan Edwards MP, said:
“In the Budget a few weeks ago, this ConDem Government slapped a £13billion VAT tax rise on ordinary people, while introducing a £2billion charge for the bankers who played a major role in the current crisis. We believe that this is the wrong way round and that it is the bankers who should be footing the bill. VAT is a regressive tax which hurts the poorest in society most as it swallows up more of their income.

“A Robin Hood tax is not just progressive but ethical too, with some of the money going towards fighting climate change and world poverty.

“I am proud that Plaid is standing up for our principles of justice and equality in supporting this tax, which we have supported in our manifestos since 2001.

“A conservative estimate of this tax by the Tax Justice Network is that it would raise £10billion from traders on international money markets.

“We must give people hope for the future and work to improve the quality of people’s lives, in Wales , the UK and across the world.
“A tax on everyday living will not achieve that – but a Robin Hood tax might, and I call for international agreement to introduce a similar tax everywhere, end tax havens and make tax fair for everybody.

“In my maiden speech to Parliament, I referred to Twm Sion Cati, the Welsh Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor and I am proud to call for such a measure within a few weeks of entering Parliament.”

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The crazy world of Royal Mail management

The public sector in Wales, including Wrecsam Council, uses private firm TNT for all its second-class post in a deal that apparently saves £500,000 a year against the same service offered by the Royal Mail.

Yet all TNT does is collect the mail and then give it to the Royal Mail to deliver.

Now who amongst the bright sparks collectively known as Royal Mail management negotiated a deal with TNT that they couldn't offer to the public sector direct?

Answers on the back of an envelope...

What is it about Labour and the interweb?

Is it fair to say that Labour in Wales and the internet don't get on?

We all remember the glorious success of the Aneurin Glyndwr website - named after two great Welsh heroes and hailed by Peter Hain no less as "as Obama moment for Wales".

It started badly with a musical attack on Plaid and went downhill.

At the time Plaid said:

"This is probably THE worst website ever produced by members of a mainstream political party. It is without doubt Labour's John Redwood moment.
"They have seriously lost the plot. Wales is in the middle of an economic crisis and their politicians are singing Delilah on Peter Hain's home-made Karaoke machine. Serious times call for serious politicians."

It lasted all of six months and has now been humanely put down.

Now we have the same Labour machine launching "A summer of conversation" - an attempt to engage the electorate in forming their policies for the next election. Apart from the one article by Carwyn Jones, the website has all the style of an unmade bed. The right-hand side of the blog has links that are all broken - it seems like a project the work experience lad had put together in his dinner break.

The swirly psychedelia reminds Vaughan Roderick of a hippy summer of love... but you have to wonder whether the creator inhaled before setting it up?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Wrecsam wins funding for first new Welsh-medium school in a decade

The first new Welsh-medium school in Wrexham for a decade will ease demand on existing schools, according to a Plaid Cymru councillor.

Cllr Marc Jones, leader of the Plaid group on Wrexham council, said he was delighted the Assembly Government had allocated £4.1 million in funding for the new school in the Gwersyllt area. The school will meet growing demand for bilingual education in the North Wrexham area and ease pressure on Ysgol Plas Coch in Rhosddu, which currently has a number of mobile classrooms to cater for demand.

He said:

"This is a long-awaited addition to Welsh-medium education in the county and all the council staff involved in the successful bid for the funding deserve our congratulations. For parents, like me, who have seen their children having to be educated in mobile classrooms this makes that temporary inconvenience worth the wait.

"I hope we can press ahead as soon as possible to get this new school up and running so that parents and children in the Gwersyllt and Summerhill area don't have to travel so far. It will also ease the pressure on Ysgol Plas Coch, where staff and children have had to put up with overcrowding due to the additional numbers."

Cllr Jones said many schools in Wrexham were over-subscribed as the population of the county rises, so the only realistic way to meet the huge demand for Welsh-medium education in the area was a new building. He added:

"Plaid Cymru locally was determined to make sure that demand was met and, since our election as councillors in 2008, we've worked with officers, parents, head teachers and governors to make sure it became a reality."

Councillor Arfon Jones, Lead Member for Children and Young People who is also a Gwersyllt councillor, in welcoming this news said:
“A large number of children in Plas Coch are Gwersyllt children but there is still an unmet demand for Welsh-medium education in Gwersyllt and Llay. The news that a new Welsh school will meet this increasing demand is to be welcomed. I would also like to thank council officers who worked hard to put in this complicated bid against very tight timescales.”

More good news on civil liberties.

It's great news that the government is to abandon it's £60 million Prevent anti terrorist programme due to concerns that citizens were encouraged to spy on each other and report suspicions to the authorities;...a bit like the Stasi informant network in East Germany pre 1989.

Wrecsam Council had several presentations on the Prevent Programme by Council officers, Security Services and Police Special Branch but we were never convinced and I don't recall it being endorsed with any degree of enthusiasm. One less strategy and action plan for Community Safety to write and allowed to gather dust.

Wrecsam Conservatives.

Rumour has it that John Marek is not going to get the Welsh Assembly nomination for Wrecsam without a fight; and it is being suggested that a prominent Wrecsam Councillor will stand against him. The method that the Tories here are going to use to select their candidate will be the Open Primary method where anyone can register to vote. Knowing how unpopular Marek is with opposition parties in Wrecsam don't be surprised if there is a lot of interest in this primary and the more the interest the more Marek's hopes diminish. I wonder if Nick Bourne will intervene to protect the interests of his 'golden boy.'The Open Primary will probably be held on the 28th July.

Labour hypocrisy over VAT rise

Yesterday Labour AM Ann Jones was busy urging the Liberal Democrats to vote against the ConDem VAT rise to 20%:

Vale of Clwyd Labour AM Ann Jones challenged Liberal Democrat AMs to oppose the UK Government’s plans to raise VAT, saying the tax would have a huge impact on low-income groups all across Wales and damage the nation’s fragile economy.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget two weeks ago that VAT would be increased by 2.5% to 20% from next January, even though during the election campaign the Conservatives said they had no plans to increase VAT and the Liberal-Democrats campaigned against any rise.

Ms Jones said: “The decision to increase VAT completely blows out of the water any pretence that this is a progressive government acting in the interests of Welsh people.

“VAT hits low-income groups the hardest and will end up having a huge impact on thousands of vulnerable families and communities right across Wales. The Government needs to understand the depth of feeling there is against an unfair, ill-thought out tax hike like this that causes most pain to those that earn the least.”

Rather than pontificating, she should have addressed her Labour colleagues in Westminster. Not one of the 26 Labour MPs from Wales bothered to vote with Plaid's MPs to stop the VAT rise. Among them was Ian Lucas, Wrexham's MP.

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards said:

“I am astounded at the sheer brazenness of Welsh Labour. This was an opportunity to right a big wrong. It is unforgivable that they couldn’t even be bothered to vote – a decision that will haunt them for many years.

“The Plaid SNP amendment voted on last was designed to stop the unfair VAT hike. There is no question that VAT slams the poorest in society by swallowing up income and will damage many small businesses in our town centres.

“Placing a regressive tax on the poor is perhaps not surprising coming from the Tories, but yet again their lapdogs the LibDems have followed suit in support this hike – despite Welsh MPs such as Roger Williams arguing that he would vote against such a move only a few weeks ago.

“Wales has been badly let down by this decision.

“Welsh Labour didn’t even show the strength of their convictions over this. They just sat on their hands and let the ConDem government walk all over them.

“Labour can never claim to defend Welsh interests again – they are too weak to stand up to damaging Tory policies. People will not forget this betrayal easily and I’ve no doubt this decision will haunt them.

“Throughout the election campaign Labour candidates claimed that only they could stop the Tories. Now they are content to sit and watch the ConDems impose painful taxes and ruthless cuts on our most vulnerable sections of society.”

To nobody's surprise the Lib Dem MPs from Wales voted for the ConDem cuts - just months after condemning such a rise themselves.

UPDATE: Ian Lucas is happy enough to speak out against the VAT increase in Westminster but not vote against it.

Councils must be transparent over PFI schemes

This worrying story highlights the problem of accountability when certain council functions are run by private companies. The same applies for hospitals and other public bodies of course.

The long-standing legal right of journalists to inspect local authority accounts for stories could be under threat following a Court of Appeal hearing.
Waste management company Veolia ES Nottinghamshire has been seeking to keep details of a multi-million pound PFI project in the county out of public scrutiny.

A High Court judge rejected its bid but the company appealed and the case was heard last week.

The judgment, expected shortly, could threaten journalists' right to write stories based on information gathered during the annual "four-week audit" period in which local authority accounts are open for public inspection.

Journalists have long been able to take advantage of the public audit provision, providing them with a potentially rich mine of stories.

But during the recent appeal hearing, counsel for Veolia argued that the purpose of opening the accounts for inspection was purely to enable members of the public to raise issues of concern with the district auditor - not to enable journalists to write stories.

The appeal court judges now have to decide whether the Audit Commission Act should be tightened up, to enable councils and consultants to keep 'confidential' contracts and invoices out of public view.

They will also rule on whether taxpayers and voters, including journalists, should be prohibited from disclosing any information inspected other than to the auditor - who will determine what information can be made public.

News agency boss and access to information campaigner Richard Orange, who has built an online database showing when accounts are available for inspection, said it was a potentially worrying development.

Orchard News proprietor Richard said: "If you find something that looks dodgy and the Court of Appeal says the only person you can talk to is the auditor, clearly that is going to impact on what journalists can do with that information."

Wrecsam Council has one PFI scheme - a 28-year contract with WRG on household waste. Although councillors are kept informed of the contract, we are not able to share that information with the general public because it's classed as Part B on the basis of it being commercially confidential.
I disagree - any public money going to a private company should be known to the people who pay that money, i.e. the taxpayer. There may be a case for commercial confidentiality when bids are put in and prior to a final contract being signed, but once that contract is in place why shouldn't people know how much we as taxpayers are paying out every year?
It's even more important that this kind of deal is properly scrutinised because council income is going to fall drastically in the coming years while we are still tied to this 28-year contract. As a result, other council services will be hit far harder.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

We are a nation - we will decide

The slogans were everywhere, blazing defiance on banners hanging from balconies across the ancient city of Girona: "Som una nacio - nosoltres decidem" (in Catalan they said "we are a nation - we will decide").
This weekend may have seen Spain win the World Cup but Catalan eyes were firmly on the giant demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday when 1.1m people joined a march to proclaim their desire for independence. This in a country of just 9 million people.
The march had been called in reaction to a Spanish supreme court ruling that Catalunya was not a nation in the eyes of Spanish law. The judgement sparked a huge response among Catalan organisations and eventually led to all the parties in the Generalitat (the Catalan Parliament) joining in the protest.
The ruling has galvanised pro-independence opinion in Catalunya - the march was dominated by pro-independence slogans and banners.
A large march also took place in Donostia (San Sebastian) in the Basque Country, but you sense the Catalans are ready to make the break and become the first of the stateless nations of Western Europe to join the EU. Not even a World Cup win can stifle that momentum.

Victims of crime shouldn't pay

If you were burgled, how would you feel about having to pay the thief? That’s what’s happening to ordinary people after the bankers robbed us blind in their money-making spree of the last decade. We’ve had to bail them out and now we’re expected to pay with pay freezes, tax rises, cuts in services and job losses.

It doesn't have to be this way. The following is a summary of an excellent article by Darren Williams in the forthcoming issue of Celyn magazine:

The PCS union commissioned Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant who has undertaken research on tax policy for governments and NGOs around the world, to look at tax avoidance. In 2008, Murphy demonstrated that around £25 billion is lost to the Exchequer annually just through tax avoidance – that is, measures that are technically legal but against the spirit of the law, as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal (Denis Healey famously said that the difference between the two was ‘the thickness of a prison wall’).

Some examples cited by Murphy are putting a transaction in someone else’s name, relocating a transaction to a tax haven or paying a company director’s income in the form of a share dividend rather than a salary, to avoid National Insurance. The TUC pamphlet sets out a number of reforms that could close the loopholes that permit such practices.

In addition to the £25 billion lost to tax avoidance, Murphy now estimates the annual cost of tax evasion as at least £70 billion. this is because HMRC underestimates the level of evasion of direct taxes like income tax and national insurance because of the method of calculation it employs.

To his £95 billion estimate for avoidance and evasion combined, Murphy adds the figure for tax declared but not collected, which was most recently estimated by HMRC as £28 billion, but which will certainly have risen, as the department has allowed more businesses to defer payments to cope with the recession. Thus, we have an overall tax gap in the region of £123 billion – equivalent to almost 80 per cent of the UK’s £155 billion budget deficit.

Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect that the whole of this sum could be recovered, even if the political will were there. But UK government policy over the last six years has actually made the problem worse by undermining HMRC’s capacity to collect what is owed. In July 2004, the then-Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced the government’s adoption of Sir Peter Gershon’s recommendation for cuts in the civil service including 12,500 from HMRC.

Worse still, almost a quarter of all tax is paid late and, in many offices, sums of less than £3,000 are not proactively chased for recovery, a situation that has contributed to at least £11.2 billion of bad debt having arisen in the 2008‐09 financial year alone.

The solution is clear: hire more staff to investigate tax evasion and avoidance and to chase bad debt. Murphy estimates that the net cost to the government of HMRC taking on a new employee, who would otherwise be unemployed, is around £12,000 after benefits, taxes, etc. are taken into consideration. The tax revenue raised per member of staff in 2008-09 was close to £5 million and, even when allowance is made for the fact that the tax currently going unclaimed is, by definition, the most difficult to recover, Murphy estimates that a new member of staff employed on tax collection duties could be expected to bring in around £252,000.

Rather than reverse the policies of the New Labour government, however, the ‘Con-Dems’ are set to make matters worse by subjecting HMRC to the 25 per cent budget cut that all Whitehall departments (apart from health and international department) are expected to make. This is sure to translate into thousands more job cuts and further reduce the department’s capacity to bring in the tax revenue that would help avoid such cuts in the first place.

The PCS union says:

‘Reducing the tax gap would mean the new government could avoid having to make swingeing cuts in public services. Our proposals would tackle tax dodging which costs the UK economy £100 billion per year and costs developing countries £250 billion.’

These arguments need to be taken up by Plaid and a wider anti-cuts campaign if we are to ensure that public sector workers, and all those who depend on public services, do not bear the burden for a crisis caused by the banks.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Libertarianism - Part 2.

Henry Porter writes an article in today's Observer which is an useful contribution to the libertarian debate about our civil liberties and freedoms. This is just part of the article:
In two months, the coalition has announced the ending of the wasteful and, as it turns out, dangerously insecure children's database, ContactPoint, as well as the ID card scheme. Immigration minister Damian Green put an end to the inhumane detention of thousands of children belonging to asylum seekers. Theresa May has agreed to examine the way the police are collecting and storing photographs and data about legitimate protesters, like 85-year-old peace campaigner John Catt who was classified as a "domestic extremist". She has also said that the automatic number plate recognition system that tracks and records 10 million vehicle journey per day will be placed under statutory regulation and scrutinised for the first time. CCTV cameras used to watch Muslims in Birmingham have been disabled. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act terror laws, used by councils to spy on members of the public, are to be reserved for counterterror operations. And in the last week the home secretary suspended section 44 of the Terrorism Act which allowed police to stop and search 250,000 innocent people last year alone, and Cameron announced details of a full judicial inquiry into allegations that British intelligence officers were involved in the torture of terror suspects.

Lluniau o Gwersyllt Photographs.

Environmental Improvement Scheme - Sunny View, Gwersyllt.

Intergenerational Community Garden - Renfrew Close, Gwersyllt.

Resurfacing - Pendine Way, Gwersyllt.

Children's Play Area and Resource Centre in the background (Second Avenue, Gwersyllt)

Environmental Improvement Scheme - Wheatsheaf Lane shop (note the absence of plants...disappeared same night they were planted!!)

Money well spent on improving the area and the quality of life of the residents.

Diolch i/Thanks to Esyllt Jones for taking the photographs.

Deiseb. - Adran 6, Deddf yr Iaith Gymraeg.

Dyma ymateb Alun Ffred Jones i'r ddeiseb yn galw ar Aelodau Seneddol i gyhoeddi eu hadroddiadau yn ddwyiaethog:

Siomedig ond ddim wedi synnu gyda'r ymateb hwyr.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Libertarianism thrives.

This last week has been a great week for libertarianism with the announcement by Teresa May that the government will change the way a stop and search power, Section 44, Terrorism Act 2000 is used. This follows complaints that the Police are using the power arbitrarily and without justification. The second piece of good news was the announcement by the Justice Minister Lord McNally that he will publish a wide ranging consultation document on libel law and defamation. Both announcements are a step in the right direction after 13 years of an illiberal Labour government who unjustifiably curtailed our civil liberties.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The World Cup and Domestic Violence.

Despite being a keen Everton supporter, I have no interest whatsoever in international football; no not even Wales. I don't do international football because I believe it brings the worst out in people and that include Welsh football hooligans. This article in the Guardian seems to support my violence thesis. On the same day that England were knocked out of the World Cup, Greater Manchester Police recorded their highest daily number of domestic violence incidents and I'm sure they reflect the national picture in England. I wonder what the figures show for Wales and Scotland, was there a spike in incidents there?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Jim Parc Nest

Dyma'r linc i araith Jim Parc Nest ar gael ei urddo'n Archdderwydd dydd Sadwrn yn Wrecsam. Araith ysbrydoledig iawn. Gobeithio y bydd yn ddylanwadol dros ben yn ei dair blynedd fel Archdderwydd.

Second Generation Kinnocks

HT to Jeff Rees for this little gem about the son of Neil and Glenys Kinnock continuing the champagne socialist tradition of his parents. They really are like an European Royal Family, Stephen Kinnock is married to the leader of the Social Democrats in Denmark, Helle Thorning Schmidt; who is likely to be the next Prime Minister of Denmark.

Balls is wrong!

Ed Balls uses the excuse that Wales should not get more money as we have disproportionately benefited from amongst other things, welfare benefits. The truth is that Wales has not benefited to any greater degree than any other part of the UK from welfare payments.

Figures provided by the DWP in respect of the total value of twelve benefit payments for the UK countries and regions in 2008/09 are as follows:
  • England £107 billion. +39% on 2002/03
  • Wales £7.3 billion +35%
  • Scotland £11.8 billion +32%
  • N. East £6.1 billion +29%
  • London £15 billion +32%
  • York & Humbs £10.75 billion +36%
  • S.East £15.75 billion +46%
Between 2002/03 and 2008/09, England takes 85% of these welfare payments whilst Wales takes 5.8% and Scotland takes 9.4%. The proportion that England takes is fractionally up whilst Wales and Scotland's proportion is fractionally down since 2002/03. Fractionally in respect of Wales in this instance equates to £.1.3 million.

What is interesting here is the fact that the wealthiest part of the UK, the South East of England has seen the greatest increase in welfare funding...a whopping 46% whilst the poorest region in England, the North East only got 29% increase between 2002/03 and 2008/09.

Again a word of caution these figures do not include Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credits or Child Benefits.

I will let the facts speak for themselves.

New Balls please...

National Left has an excellent posting condemning Labour leadership contender Ed Balls for his comments about the Barnett formula for Wales:

He said: “The important thing that I know from my time in the Treasury is that the Barnett Formula applies to part of public spending. But you’ve also got in addition to that, the spending outside the Barnett Formula which comes on the basis of need... because of unemployment, because of child poverty, and also because of the need for regeneration.”

And he went on that Wales, “disproportionately benefited” from European aid, unemployment benefits and tax credit support “because there has been greater need and disadvantage in some parts of Wales because of the legacy of the Thatcher unemployment of the 1980s”.

It’s seems to be a bit like saying that a victim of mugging disproportionately benefited from A&E treatment and Police attention.

What Balls and the rest of the Westminster circus can not see is the reason why Wales has such a dependency on the public sector is because of the failure of successive governments and to realise that we need to rebuilt our manufacturing industry. Well Balls appears to understand this to some extent,but he cannot blame it all on Thatcher. His party has had 10 years of government and in reality did nothing to address the issue ,or used the wrong policy the which is why we became dependent on EU funding.

The idea that if you get money from the European Union means that national government can cut it’s own aid is contrary to the actual ethos of EU policy.

But successive government have pursued the wrong policy when it comes to encouraging manufacturing in Wales. To the extent of building large complexes for major manufactures who stat for a period but then decamp to area where wage costs are lower.

This cam be reflected in the saga of the LG factory in Newport which never realised anything like it's potential,

The LG site has had a troubled history, with up to 6,000 jobs promised in 1996 never materialising.

A £1.2 billion sister factory on the site, which was to make semi-conductors, never went into production and is still empty.

The LG Philips factory making colour tubes for monitors and televisions closed in 2003 with 870 job losses.

At its height, 2,000 people were employed at the site.

The LG factories on the site originally received more than £87m of grant money, and in 2005 some £34m was repaid to the then Welsh Development Agency.

To some extent LG failed because they were intending to build the wrong sort of TV sets but they could have changed their process.
Some would argue that this was the fault of the Welsh Assembly Government but they were highly under the control of Labour's Westminster Ideology at the time and the initiative came before the Assembly was created.

It would have been better if the £87m had gone to encouraging smaller indigenous companies to form or expand in areas of high unemployment perhaps on a small proportion of the 6,000 jobs would have been created but they would still be here. We need Welsh solution for Welsh problems not be led

It is clear to me that the current crisis will be used by the Parties at Westminster to “roll back the state”. Which they have been itching to do for decades. None of the leadership candidates seem to be willing to stand up for the eventual victims of this and Welsh Labour who may benefit from this policy. But Welsh voters are not stupid and they must distance themselves from the likes Balls because if they do not there is a centre left Party in Wales who will be only willing to do so.

Fortunately, Plaid Cymru is challenging both Balls and this short-sighted and ill-conceived economic policy by changing the way the Welsh Government provides economic assistance. Ieuan Wyn Jones's announcement that economic development would be targetted away from the LG-type inward investment and towards promoting local small-scale enterprises is a very welcome change of course. I hope those enterprises will include workers' cooperatives and community interest companies that lack start-up capital but are not motivated by greed.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Total Politics Blog Poll 2010 - 11.

Vote for your favourite political blog.

Plaid Wrecsam was 10 out of 60 of Welsh Political blogs last year.

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010

Balls and Barnett.

Ed Balls reckons that Wales gets too much money and there is no need to change the Barnett formula. In an interview with the Wales on Sunday, Balls said:
“The important thing that I know from my time in the Treasury is that the Barnett Formula applies to part of public spending. But you’ve also got in addition to that, the spending outside the Barnett Formula which comes on the basis of need... because of unemployment, because of child poverty, and also because of the need for regeneration.”

Mr Balls said Wales had “disproportionately benefited” from European aid, unemployment benefits and tax credit support “because there has been greater need and disadvantage in some parts of Wales because of the legacy of the Thatcher unemployment of the 1980s”.

What Balls doesn't do is to produce the evidence to show that Wales has 'disproportionately benefitted from DWP/HMRC and European funding,' even the Chief Secretary at the Treasury, Danny Alexander cannot provide the relevant information. Neither does Mr Balls mention the massive regeneration funding that has gone into cities like Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle as well as the high level of DWP benefits take up in Scotland. If what Ed Balls is saying is true one would expect Wales's GVA (Gross Value Added) to be improved but Wales is still propping up other regions of the UK and on all measures of deprivation and our position has deteriorated over the last 13 years of a Labour Government, there is more poverty in Wales now than in 1997.

What we need are spending lines for each of the UK regions for public services, DWP payments, tax credit payment and European funding so that we and Jeremy Paxman can understand EXACTLY how much money Wales gets. Is it too much to ask?

Housing Subsidy and Stock Transfer.

We as Councillors in Wrecsam have been at the forefront of highlighting the issues around the Housing Subsidy and the fact that Wrecsam tenants are paying £11.2 million of their £30 million council house rents to the Treasury. Many Councillors on Wrecsam Council believe that stock transfer is the answer to meeting the Welsh Quality Housing Standards and chief amongst them are the Tories. It was therefore refreshing to read this letter in this week's First magazine by a Tory Councillor from the Forest of Dean:

Housing help required

Housing minister Grant Shapps’ decision to continue with the review of the housing revenue account (first 467) is to be welcomed, and a more sustainable mechanism for financing council house building is to be developed.

Allowing councils to spend the rent they collect and the freedom to manage their housing revenues to build more homes is, however, an option only open to those which own and manage their own housing stock. These councils also have the staff strength to support other modes of increasing housing supply, such as bringing back empty homes, refurbishing existing stock, and incentivising private landlords.

Regrettably, those councils which transferred stock are still lumbered with significant responsibilities in enabling affordable housing and meeting housing-related social wellbeing objectives – while lacking control over their outcomes.

These changes were initiated by central government on a fully funded basis but then changed to match-funding, and subsequently with significant reduction in central grants.

Mr Shapps will have to find practical solutions for councils which feel disenfranchised from taking advantage of the new initiatives being offered.

Cllr Venk Shenoi (Con)
Forest of Dean

It seems that stock transfer is not the panacea it's made out to be. Give us back the money and let's get on with bringing our housing stock up to standard, we can do a lot of improvement with £11 million.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

"Ni all ladd ennill heddwch"

"Ni all ladd ennill heddwch" - dyna eiriau'r diweddar Dic Jones gafodd eu dyfynnu gan yr archdderwydd newydd Jim Parc Nest mewn araith rymus i gyhoeddi Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Wrecsam heddiw.
Aeth Jim ati yn ddi-flewyn ar dafod i darannu yn erbyn rhyfel anghyfreithlon Irac a'r llanast presennol yn Affganistan. Aeth ymlaen i longyfarch Wrecsam am fynd ati i ehangu addysg Gymraeg - 200 o blant newydd yn cychwyn ar eu haddysg Gymraeg yn y sir fis Medi - ac yna crybwyll yr her sy'n wynebu cymunedau'r ffin.
Roedd hi'n faniffesto wleidyddol gref wnaeth son am yr angen i "fod yn beryglus". Gobeithio'n fawr y cawn weld "maniffesto'r bardd" mewn print yn fuan.

DIWEDDARIAD: Dyma fo'r "maniffesto"