Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Supporters edge closer to the dream

What a difference a year makes. Last year's Wrexham Supporters' Trust AGM had a handful of diehards, with no prospect of the current owners selling and the club on a seemingly endless downward spiral. Membership was down below 600.

One year on and membership has doubled to 1200, there is renewed vigour and enthusiasm about the Trust and we are within touching distance of the dream - community ownership of the football club and the Racecourse.

Tonight's annual general meeting at the Cent is a good-natured one. Credit for keeping the ship afloat must go to the long-standing board members - people like Mark Williams, Pete Jones, Richard Owen, Gavin Jones and Spencer Harris. And not forgetting Lindsay Jones, the original "pesky kid" who did so much to wrest the club from the clutches of Hamilton.

Because of that, Trust members don't give board members an easy ride. There was evident unease that the lower limit on share ownership had been set at £250. For a town struggling in the recession and with many young fans without work or in college, that seemed high to some. The board is working with the credit union to allow share ownership to be bought in stages - but the easiest solution is to reduce that lower limit to £100.

Richard Green, the new chief executive of the WST, spoke powerfully about how he witnessed community breakdown in Thatcher's Britain and the need to re-engage the community by bringing the club back into their control. First impressions are good and he's working flat out talking to other community-owned clubs. Exeter, for example, are in League One despite having poorer facilities than us. Crucially they have five staff working in the community compared to Wxm FC's solo staff member. With fan ownership comes a change of priorities and direction.

The ex-policeman was also asked a killer question: "Are you going to investigate fraud at the club?"

Concerns about the season ticket money was aired, but there are limits to what the board can say at this time. Let's hope the ex-policeman doesn't need to call in his colleagues to investigate what has happened to funding at the club.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

It's the economy, stupid.

Gerald Holtham offers Plaid Cymru some interesting advice in this month's edition of Barn (Opinion) magazine.
Although not a member - or even a supporter - this is his message.
Be and open. Say "we want independence and we want to see Wales taking her place among the world's nations."
Being honest also means saying: "if Wales was independent right now we would be poorer by far".
Accept the reality that few will be swayed by such a prospect: "We serve the people of Wales and don't want to make you poorer. On the contrary our aim is to stabilise the Welsh economy to the extent that the Welsh people can choose independence without becoming poorer.
"Unlike the other parties, we have no split loyalties and nothing to distract us from our goal.
This may take a decade or two, even three. But Plaid is about more than that:
"Perhaps wealth is enough for some but Plaid has a higher purpose. When we reach our economic goal, we appeal for you to support our goal of independence.
This is the choice facing people: "Even then, independence will be your choice."
That is a radically different framework to the other parties, whose Welsh branches can only beg for more crumbs from london's table. We seek powers to achieve our goals.
Holtham also calls for a leader with the chutzpah and self-confidence of Alex Salmond.
Amen to that.
I would take issue with Holtham on two counts. Firstly is that our current relative poverty is somehow natural. We are poorer because we are part of the British state and do not have control over our natural resources and energy sources. Secondly, that it is possible to rectify that economic imbalance and lack of social justice within that state. The current legal set-up under the Government of Wales Act 2006, e.g. regarding control over water resources, explicitly rules out the Government of Wales having any control over our greatest asset.
It follows therefore that political change, i.e. independence, can lead to greater economic wealth and social justice rather than simply the other way around.

A bad week in Scotland!

Two interesting news stories to come out of Scotland this week, the first concerns the ill fated Edinburgh Trams Project where it has emerged that consultants working for Edinburgh City Council arms length company TIE have been paid a £1000 a day working on the project making the total an eye watering £24 million.

The second disaster to befall the Scots this week is the forced resignation of John Scott, Chief Executive of the 2014 Commonwealth Games:
GLASGOW’S Commonwealth Games chief executive has resigned after he admitted failing to declare an offer he received from a potential supplier.

John Scott quit his £180,000-a-year post yesterday after making an “error of judgment” by breaching strict rules on potential conflicts of interest set out in the Glasgow 2014 committee’s gifts and gratuities policy.

The Herald understands Strathclyde Police will today discuss the specific circumstances of Mr Scott’s departure with the 2014 organising committee.

The organisation is under growing pressure to reveal the identity of the supplier and the nature of the offer. It has refused to do so on the grounds they are “private and commercially sensitive”.

So even in Scotland things are not as quite as rosy as what we in Wales think!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

"This could be grandaddy of all industrial accidents" - why are we closing our eyes to nuclear?

Thought Fukishima was contained, was safe? Think again. This interview is more devastating information about the ongoing crisis : "This could be grandaddy of all industrial accidents".

Syniadau has more. But the question we must ask from a Welsh perspective is why are UK politicians opting for eight new nuclear plants - including one at Wylfa - when Germany and other nuclear countries are opting out and closing down.

Advocates of Wylfa B from an economic point of view - it provides jobs in the poorest part of the UK - are ostrich-like. If anything goes wrong at Wylfa on the scale of Fukishima, there will be no Anglesey let alone jobs on Anglesey. One catastrophe and a large chunk of our country is uninhabitable.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Milibland in Wrecsam - a nation yawns

Ed Milibland will be making "important policy announcements" at Labour's National Policy Forum today. Apparently:

It follows the news he wants to scrap elections to his shadow cabinet – a move seen as asserting control over his party.

Labour insiders are comparing the move to Blair's scrapping of Clause 1V of the party's constitution, seen as advocating nationalisation of industry.

We're barely able to contain our excitement at this radical plan to reduce democratic accountability in a party run by control freaks for control freaks.

Letter to the Western Mail.

I don't normally publish letters on the blog, only the ones I think will be censored. This is such a letter:
Dear Editor,

Permit me to respond to yesterday’s headline report in the Western Mail where Carl Sargeant accuses Welsh Council’s of ‘complacency, under-performance and senseless bureaucracy;’ and of course they exist in ALL public services in Wales including Mr Sargeant’s own Civil Service within the Welsh Government and the National Assembly; but it is of course easier to blame others rather than clear out one’s own backyard especially as most that work in that backyard have ‘bomb proof’ conditions of service which ensures that they will never be touched by the cold winds of recession, unlike Local Government employees.

Welsh Government Ministers should ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and do their bit to reduce ‘senseless bureaucracy’ by implementing a system of audit and inspection that is fit for purpose and not the current burdensome inspection regimes that take staff away from the front line to satisfy the whims of the Welsh Audit Office, CSSIW, Estyn and so on.

Yours faithfully,

Councillor Arfon Jones,
Lead Member for Children and Young People,
Wrecsam County Borough Council.

The Tory Leadership fight gets dirty!

A researcher for a contender for the leadership of the Welsh Conservative party has been suspended following revelations of 'lurid postings' on a Myspace site allegedly belonging to Vincent Bailey a staffer for Andrew RT Bailey, Conservative Regional AM for South Wales Central.

What I found significant in this article was this little paragraph:
Yesterday Labour drew our attention to material on Mr Bailey’s Myspace site dating back to 2006.

Can we assume that Labour staffers are under orders to dig the dirt on Andrew RT Davies so as to facilitate Nick Ramsay's election as leader? I know who I would prefer as Tory leader and leader of the opposition if I was First Minister Carwyn Jones.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Taking pictures is a hazardous business!

Like in Carmarthen, taking photographs or videoing officialdom is also an occupational hazard the other side of the pond as Emily Good of Rochester, New York, found to her cost:
A 28-year-old woman has been charged with obstructing governmental administration after refusing a police officer’s order to leave her front yard while she was videotaping a traffic stop.

WHEC-TV reported that Emily Good of Rochester, New York filmed the police officers while they were conducting a traffic stop in front of her home. Good's videotape shows the officers telling her that they feel threatened by her standing behind them because she seemed "very anti-police."

An officer then asked her to go into her house, an order which she refused. After briefly arguing about Good's right to be in her lawn, the officers warned her that if she continued to refuse they would arrest her. She continued to argue, and was then handcuffed and arrested.

I just love the reason for arrest, "obstructing governmental administration" that is a classic and will undoubtedly appear sooner or later in Carmarthenshire County Council policies.

Seriously though, Carmarthen are not twinned with Rochester are they?

UK Economy Returns to the 1930's: IMF Applauds.

Yes that is the verdict of ex BBC Economics Correspondent John Cassidy writing in the New Yorker

I'd never read John Cassidy before but found his article on what is a complex subject easy to follow and understand compared to economic articles in the British press.

The article confirms what we in Wales believe and that the chanchellor George Osborne's cuts to reduce the deficit are too deep and will only serve to keep the fragile Welsh economy in a depression for many many more years.

I wonder if the Welsh Tory apologists, the Druid, Dylan Jones Evans or even the infrequent blogger Paul Rogers will come to George Osborne's defence?

It must be difficult to defend the undefensible.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Another Plaid gain

Plaid Cymru's winning streak in local elections - you know, where real people vote rather than being patronised by pundits - continues.
Mansel Charles gained Llanegwad in Carmarthenshire from the Independents by 494 to 455.
This means that Plaid now has 31 councillors, making it the largest party on the county council but in opposition due to a lash-up between Labour and Independents.

Care for People with a Learning Disability

Below is a statement from the Deputy Minister for Social Care, Gwenda Thomas relating to the Panorama programme about Castlebeck and Winterbourne House:
Like me you will have been distressed by the recent BBC Panorama programme that identified the appalling abuse of vulnerable adults at the Castlebeck owned Winterbourne View Care Home, near Bristol. Treatment of vulnerable people like this just cannot be tolerated.

Assembly Members have understandably sought assurances about the care provided to people from Wales who have been placed in the care of Castlebeck or any of its subsidiaries.

There are no people from Wales presently placed in Winterbourne View Care Home. There are however a very small number of people placed in other Castlebeck owned facilities in England I have received assurances from the placing authority that monitoring visits are in place and there are currently no concerns about their wellbeing.

Whilst Castlebeck does not provide any services in Wales, a subsidiary company Mental Health Care UK (MHC) , operates three independent hospitals and 13 registered care homes in North Wales providing care for people with mental health and learning disabilities. The hospitals are registered with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) and the care homes are registered with Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).

Enquiries have been made of all Local Authorities, Local Health Boards and Welsh Health Specialised Services in Wales to identify people placed in the MHC hospitals and homes. We have enquired about the action they have taken and will continue to take to be assured that the people they have placed have received and will continue to receive appropriate care. They have all provided assurances about the adequacy of their arrangements for the contracting of care of vulnerable individuals; the maintenance of standards of care; regular reviews of care needs; and the monitoring arrangements and the detection of, and response to, concerns raised about the quality of care.

I have met both Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) to discuss their statutory responsibilities and their responses to the Panorama programme. I am confident that firm action is being taken by CSSIW and HIW in the immediate and longer term to ensure that those who are vulnerable and accessing health and social care are properly safeguarded and that their care and treatment needs are fully addressed.

Although the particular focus of the Panorama programme was a home for people with learning disabilities, complex needs or challenging behaviour there are lessons to be learnt about the care and safeguarding of all vulnerable people in Wales. I can advise that we will be using the Welsh Government’s new legislative powers to introduce a Social Services Bill, based on a thorough review of the current legislative and regulatory framework, that will include provisions to strengthen safeguarding arrangements for vulnerable people in Wales. We must all do all we can to ensure that the appalling abuse suffered by vulnerable people in Winterbourne View Care Home never happens in Wales.

One of the hospitals concerned is in fact a 'secure unit' at New Hall, Rhiwabon, and by 'secure' I mean exactly that. It's not the sort of place you can pop in or out to do welfare visits. In fact no one knows who is there or how many clients; I don't even know anyone who works there. I gather than any inspection of New Hall will be done by Health Inspectorate Wales and not by the CSSIW.

Let's hope that the new Social Services Bill actually reduces some of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved and allows front-line staff to actually deliver services and for their managers to manage rather than prepare for the next inspection which is never far away.

Sargeant needs to look closer to home!

As Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant addressed the 'movers and shakers' at today's Welsh Local Government Association conference in Swansea. There was one sentence in the whole speech that struck me as being significant:
And it gives me and indeed you a chance to challenge complacency, under-performance and senseless bureaucracy.

He was obviously referring to Local Government alone forgetting of course that the civil servants of the Welsh Government have never exactly covered themselves in glory and as we already know the cold winds of recession never reaches the corridors of Cathays Park or Ty Crughywel because of pay protection and redeployment.

Local Government are not frightened of change, the challenge of collaboration has gathered pace over the last 18 months and no doubt will continue to do so. But why does local government have to take all the pain whilst Carl Sargeant, Leighton Andrews, Edwina Hart and Lesley Griffiths continue to protect their own overpaid bureaucrats within HNS Wales and other departments.

Wrexham tax office under threat - 400 jobs at risk

Plaid AM attacks leaked closure plans

Llyr Huws Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's new Assembly Member for North Wales, has attacked plans by the UK government to close all tax offices in Wales except for one in Cardiff.

A leaked document lists just 16 Her Majesty Customs and Revenue offices remaining open in the UK, including Cardiff.

He said:
"This is devastating news for the 1,000 tax office staff in Porthmadog, Wrexham, Merthyr Tydfil, Carmarthen, Colwyn Bay, Swansea and Prestatyn.

"A large number of those jobs are in Wrexham, which has absorbed jobs from the previous round of closures under Labour, and I will be doing all I can to ensure that we don't lose more public sector jobs in the North.

"We in North Wales are being clobbered by the Con-Dem government out of all proportion with these planned job losses. Fragile local economies such as Colwyn Bay, Prestatyn and Porthmadog can't take any more cuts as they will impact further on local shops and businesses."

Mr Gruffydd said he was furious that tax office jobs had been lost while big corporations were not being scrutinised effectively enough and paying their share of the tax burden. He added:

"It makes absolutely no sense whatsover to be cutting the very staff who can make sure big business and the wealthy pay their taxes. Each tax inspector is worth, on average, £600,000 in terms of additional tax collected. That's money that can go to build schools and maintain the NHS. Cutting staff means reducing the tax take - it's a nonsensical policy decision.

"Why are successive UK Governments hell bent on attacking the public sector in Wales? This is a cut too far and will be resisted fiercely."

Another backward step!

In the seven weeks since the Assembly election the NEW Welsh Government of Carwyn Jones has not taken many steps forward; if any! This is hardly surprising with one of his ministers Edwina Hart failing to observe the 'respect agenda' by refusing to give evidence on inward investment before the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, and what makes it worse is the manner in which she refused with a 'snotty' email.

One would have thought that Wales needed as much help as it can get to attract inward investment and we cannot ignore the impact that Westminster has on economic development. On the other hand it may be that Edwina didn't want to be embarrased by Welsh MP's by being unable to show that she has a handle on her brief and her lack of vision for a prosperous Wales.

When Edwina was appointed to her economic role I thought it a strange choice then to choose an ardent Trade Unionist to lead for business on behalf of Wales. Her only previous contribution to economic development in Wales, is to ensure that 100's of well paid 'jobsworths' in the Wales NHS have 10 years pay protection!

The woman is an embarrassment and her arrogance will do nothing to encourage business to re-locate to Wales.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bevan spinning in his grave!

HT to Ieu Rhos for bringing this little gem to our attention. It concerns that Social Justice Think Tank for Wales, the Bevan Foundation, which produces reports on justice! Their most recent report is the Working All Hours: The part-time poverty trap; read on and the irony of the title will not be lost on you!

Not only do staff at the Bevan Foundation write reports but they also offer internships which in turn offer unique experiences in, amongst other things social policy in Wales...presumably that includes 'minimum wage and low pay'

If that is the case perhaps they would care to explain why they are advertising TWO internships where the benefits are described as:
We will make a modest contribution to the cost of food and travel to a maximum of £10 per day. You will be based at our purpose-built office in Ebbw Vale, which is about 50 mins drive from Cardiff (we have a free on-site car park) or 50 mins by hourly rail service from Cardiff Central. The office is also served by buses between Ebbw Vale and Newport and local services.

Perhaps the Bevan Foundation need to seek advice from the TUC and the CIPD on employment law:
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is so concerned that employers may be breaking the law on internships that it recently issued guidance to them.

Under the minimum wage legislation, a person must be paid if they are doing genuine and productive work.

The only exception is when someone is classified as a volunteer, which means they do not have set hours, and they are free to be absent whenever they wish.

Tom Richmond, from the CIPD, said the law was totally clear.

"If employees are contributing to the workplace, if they are doing work for you, you have to pay them the minimum wage," he said.

One recent case that was taken to court has shown that magistrates and judges are more than willing to punish employers who have broken the law, and to award compensation to the victims.

Whether it is the global businesses of the city of London or a so called "socialist" think tank in Labour's heartlands, unpaid internships is still worker exploitation.

The great man would indeed be spinning in his grave!

'I can't afford to die'

There was a full house at the Catrin Finch centre tonight to hear various campaigners linked to TCC, the campaigning charity based in Wrecsam.
The stand-out speech was by Sue Henderson about the price of funerals. She opened with the unforgettable words: "I can't afford to die".
As a self-confessed "gobby" low-paid worker she's done some research into the cost of getting buried. It's difficult enough to cope with a bereavement but the lack of regulation and the lack of an upfront pricing system means that the more unscrupulous funeral companies can sting relatives for £4,000 or more. I wish her and Yvonne Price well in their campaign, which deserves a wider audience.
There were also valuable contributions from Ruth Drake, who has spearheaded the campaign to save maternity services in Ysbyty Wrecsam Maelor. She revealed that local AM Lesley Griffiths had told the campaigners privately and publicly before the election that she was "vehemently in support of" their stance. Since the election, she has become the Health Minister and it will be interesting to see whether she has maintained her stance.
Fairtrade campaigner at Ysgol Rhosnesni, community agriculture schemes in Flintshire (inspired by Cuba's successful turn to organic self-sufficiency) and anti-fascist campaigns in Shotton also had an airing. There was also celebrations that the TCC campaign for a living wage had seen 677 low-paid workers at Wrecsam Council lifted out of poverty thanks to pressure from TCC, Unison and Plaid Cymru councillors. TCC then put two local Bishops present on the spot - would they too ensure that all their workers in the diocese were on a living wage? Cue two awkward looking Bishops not used to being ambushed.
I spoke about the various campaigns we as a party have been involved with TCC over the years - from opposing Labour's plan for an incinerator to burn Wrecsam's waste to the Living Wage. I also supported their accountability meetings for election candidates that are a return to the old fashioned town hall meetings and wondered whether other groups could organise similar meetings on a more local level of villages and estates.

Carmarthenshire Council meet Private Eye.

Congratulations to Carmarthenshire Council on achieving the dubious honour of appearing in the Rotton Borough's column of Private Eye. Needless to say that this relates to the disproportionate action the council took against Mrs Jacqui Thompson for having the audacity to record proceedings of the County Council which is in breach of the council's unwritten constitution and Standing Orders!. Reproduced below is a scanned copy of the article in Private Eye:

When will Carmarthenshire Council learn that they cannot treat their citizens in this manner and that we all demand open and transparent government.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What is Wales for?

The NEA want to re-forest large parts of Wales to provide a playground for nearby large cities.
Boris wants Wales to provide more water for the south-east of England
The sub-regional strategy for N E Wales wants to build thousands of additional homes, much to the delight of housing developers.
London Government and large energy companies want to cover more of our hills in windfarms.

All these strategies and ideas are initiated in England and will benefit England.

The needs of Welsh communities are, at best, ignored. At worst, they are being trampled upon and - in the case of Bodelwyddan - destroyed.

So what is Wales for? A playground, a commuter estate and an exporter of energy and water?

Or do we take control of our own destiny and decide enough is enough - we will decide on all these issues in the best interest of our communities rather than rapacious developers and remote civil servants who don't give a monkeys about Wales.

Sargeant's orders

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities, has made a statement that virtually orders councils across Wales to start delivering joint services and combining top directors. This has already started to happen with Ynys Mon and Gwynedd sharing a chief executive and delivering a joint Local Development Plan.

Key passages in his statement include:

We will ensure that the overall delivery structure is fit for purpose. Where there are bureaucratic barriers, we will remove them. And we will continue to take decisive action in response to failure.

In today’s statement I will focus on three areas for early action:

first, taking forward action flowing from the Simpson report, which complements the Vivian Thomas report on education structures, and the Government’s policy paper ‘Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action, all published at the end of the last term;
second, recognising the gains made on efficiency and innovation and making sure we keep up the momentum for delivery;
finally, ensuring effective partnerships.
We are now moving to implementation of the fundamental service reviews I have mentioned. The core messages are clear:

the existing service delivery arrangements are not sustainable: capacity is spread too thinly across twenty two organisations;
therefore we face an urgent imperative to reconfigure those delivery arrangements,
doing so will strengthen performance and ensure services are robust and resilient for the long term.
Simpson is therefore the key driver of change and reconfiguration in local service delivery over this Assembly term.

As I made clear in my Statement on 31 March, this is not about local government re-organisation. We must reform delivery arrangements but we do not need to incur the cost, delay and upheaval of re-organisation.

Much work is already underway. On the planning side, Simpson’s proposals reflect best practice across Wales, which is being driven forward by the Environment Minister.

My new Department includes transport, and I will be looking to build on the work of the Regional Transport Consortia, to deliver more transport functions on a regional basis, and considering the use of the powers to form Joint Transport Authorities.

I am pleased that local government’s response to Simpson has been positive. But we must move from talking to action, and I will be having a frank discussion with local government leaders on this at the WLGA conference on Thursday.

One of the things I will be frank about is my frustration at the difference between warm words in principle, and recent action. The current senior staffing structure of 22 local authorities is unsustainable and outdated. How do we justify the cost of so many Chief Executives and senior officers when front line services are under threat?

At the same time, the Reviews are pointing to the need for strategic capacity at a more regional level. All this points to a fundamental re-think of the role of senior teams, across organisational boundaries. Why therefore does local government default to filling posts on a single organisation basis?

Over a quarter of local authorities in Wales have independently filled Chief Executive posts over the past year. At senior Director level, the pattern is the same: opportunities to make joint appointments are resisted and often not even considered. I am thinking of specific examples which I have pushed for, in Conwy, Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent but this is a general problem.

We are missing opportunities not only to make savings, but more importantly, to recruit the best quality people, from within and beyond Wales, who can help us deliver an ambitious change agenda. This cannot go on, it is time to stop talking and start delivering.

It is also time to simplify and streamline, so that delivery arrangements for individual services add up to a coherent overall structure that makes sense for partners and the public.

We are therefore looking to the WLGA response to demonstrate strategic coherence, and best practicable fit with the Local Health Board and Police Authority arrangements.

I believe in doing not talking. I will take the opportunity offered by Simpson to revamp the Local Government Partnership Council so that it provides the mechanism for robust challenge and progress-chasing. I am commissioning an immediate fundamental review of its operation, and will bring forward specific proposals in the autumn.

Our work on efficiency and innovation provided a rapid response to supporting public services in managing with tighter budgets.

We have seen some real success through working as one Welsh public service: for example in using common procurement, an area which is a manifesto commitment. I will be working closely with Ministers to bring to fruition, ICT and property management systems, as well as new service delivery models.

I am very grateful for the commitment shown by public service leaders in driving this common agenda with vigour and enthusiasm. I will be meeting the senior leaders involved early next month to identify the way forward as we move to support implementation of Simpson.

I will not hesitate to take difficult or unpopular decisions, including to mandate change if that is necessary to deliver our commitments to the people of Wales.

Whether Sargeant is willing to walk the walk as well as talk the talk remains to be seen.

The BBC hiding behind FOI exemptions!!

On the 6th June 2011, I made a Freedom of Information request of the BBC regarding Question Time from Wrecsam. This follows a number of people expressing concern as to the make up of the audience. These are the questions I asked:

I would like information on how the audience was selected for BBC Question Time from Wrexham on Thursday 2nd June 2011.

1. Breakdown of home addresses of the audience into post codes (first 2 letters and first 2 numbers only) i.e LL11, SY10 or CH11.

2. Total number of people in the audience?

3. Total number of people who identified as Labour, Plaid Cymru, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green, UKIP, BNP, Other.

4. Total number of people in the audience who did not identify with a political party.

5. Total number of people in the audience who spoke Welsh?

6. The BBC’s criteria for selecting the audience for Question Time?

7. If one of the criteria is a knowledge of public affairs in the week before the programme, did a knowledge of Welsh devolved public affairs play and equal part in selecting the audience.

This is the reply I received:
The information you have requested is out of scope of the Act but we are happy to explain that the audience for this edition was selected according to the same principles as are applied to other editions of Question Time, that is we are looking for a broad but balancing range of views from people who are interested in the topics likely to come up. Applicants are asked detailed questions before they are acceptedto establish their views and background. The programme does not claim that in any one programme the audience is "representative" in any proportionate way of the views of the population as a whole. The overall aim is to achieve balance across the series as the audience mix will vary in different locations.

We hope you find this helpful. Please note that the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to the Act provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”, The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with
these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the above information in response to your request.

Appeal Rights:

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner.

I frankly find their views both arrogant and condescending, firstly they state they do not conduct reviews, despite this being a legal requirement and secondly, how is audience information, being held for the purposes of 'journalism'?

I will be appealing against this decision. As a Public Service Broadcaster the BBC needs to be impartial and for the public to be able to gauge that impartiality it needs to be more open and transparent and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Racecourse: The end of the beginning in sight?

Churchill (the politician not the dog in the advert) once said:

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Today's upbeat statement from Wrexham FC owners suggests that, after a worryingly long period of due diligence by the WST's appointed accountants, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

"After further discussions at the Racecourse, the Directors have issued the following:

"Geoff Moss and Jon Harris today met with Rob Parry, Gavin Jones and Richard Green, of the Wrexham Supporters Trust, to discuss the purchase of the Football Club, The Racecourse Ground and Colliers Park.

"The meeting was really positive and considerable progress was made, with a move ever closer to the conclusion of the deal."

It was very good to meet new WST chief exec Richard Green last night at the Lager Club, where the WST board meetings clash with Plaid Wrecsam meetings on a regular basis. We can only look forward to the WST writing the next chapter in the colourful history of our club.

Monday, 20 June 2011

'I don't recognise council ban'

The founder of Wecsam’s St Davids Day march says he does not recognise the ban imposed by Wrecsam council to stop him speaking at future events.

Mr Adam Philips states the council have no authority to ban him from the march as it is not their event. The ban along with the actions of Strategic Director Phil Walton in implementing it were previously called into question at Wrecsam councils Executive Board by Cllr Carrie Harper.

Mr Philips said: “As the founder of the event I don’t recognise the councils ban and fully intend to be speaking at the St David’s Day parade next year. That said, I do feel the heavy handed actions of Phil Walton in attempting to implement this restriction on freedom of speech do need investigating. He made false claims to the Executive Board in stating I did not reply to his original letter banning me from the event, I did in fact reply asking for a meeting and have a copy of that letter. Council staff responded to tell me Mr Walton was unwilling to meet with me.”

“I will be outlining all my concerns, including refuting the false accusations made against me to the Chief Executive of Wrecsam council. I hope they will take appropriate action and will now be concentrating my efforts on making next years event even bigger and better”.

Cllr Carrie Harper added “ I am concerned about the nature of the ‘complaint’ against Mr Philips given that we were told it was actually submitted by a Wrecsam county councillor. The complaint which was read out at a recent Executive Board meeting only referred to comments about the referendum on further law making powers for Wales. The original letter lists other issues such as Mr Philips comments on city status and a clenched fist salute during the national anthem. It was not explained to councillors who these other comments have come from. Mr Philips has made every effort to try and resolve this issue with the council for the benefit of the event but at the moment it seems they are unwilling to back down. "

“ I fully support Mr Philips statement that he doesn’t recognise the ban and intends to fully participate in the event he established next year. I’m confident the people of Wrecsam will also give him their support”.

Powys Fadog - stretched to breaking point?

Following my recent post about the Welsh Government failing to comply with freedom of information legislation in relation to many requests about Powys Fadog, I thought I’d share the details of quite an astonishing phone call I’ve just witnessed.

To cut a very long story short (5 years worth in fact) and to give a bit of background, Powys Fadog submitted a funding package to WAG back in February 2010 for their health/well being and Welsh cultural centre based in Llangollen. This package had been negotiated by WAG officers and had progressed to the point of draft heads of terms being agreed, a schedule of works being completed and contractors being appointed to carry out the refurbishment of the River Lodge hotel in Llangollen. The project required the final paper work to be signed off in order for everything to get started, dotting the ‘I’s’ and crossing the ‘T’s’ so the group were told at the time. It was at this point that everything was stopped, there were no explanations from WAG as to why and after a few weeks of enquiries, officers stopped responding to phone calls and e mails.

Essentially the situation has pretty much remained unchanged since February 2010, still no official explanation has been given as regards why everything was stopped but it has come to light that the Permanent Secretary herself stepped in to stop the project. A raft of FOI requests (the ones that eventually came back in part) have also revealed a series of letters from former Clwyd South AM Karen Sinclair to Rhodri Morgan, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Edwina Hart and Jane Hutt. In these letters she makes unfounded claims and allegations about Powys Fadog, she calls for the project to be stopped, for investigations and audits and interestingly also for a health centre to be put on the site instead.

Powys Fadog had a lease on the premises which expired on 17th June 2011. They have been desperately trying to get explanations and information regarding a decision on their project over the last 16 months. Promises were made from very senior WAG officials, firstly committing to a decision post the election and more recently a promise in writing that a decision would be made before the lease expired.

That lease expired on Friday and low and behold, still no decision, still no explanations, in fact nothing at all from the Government. You would surely expect that when the group contacted the officer in charge today to enquire about progress, they would have been met with a whole host of apologies. Erm no….. that didn’t happen, they were instead informed that no information could be given, everything was now with the Minister, a decision would be made in due course and there would be no explanation for the delays and the deadlines that had not been met. The officer also went on to state he would not provide information regarding how long the issue had been with the Minister. The group calmly stated they found this situation to be quite unbelievable and asked if WAG treated everyone like this, the response from the senior WAG officer on the other end of the phone? He hung up!

There’s not much that shocks me any more about the way the Government have treated this group, who are remember local volunteers trying to set up a not for profit social enterprise. I’ve watched the ins and outs of this over the last 5 years in complete amazement and also disbelief. Everyone has tried to get to the bottom of what’s gone on here, councillors, Ministers, Assembly Members, solicitors, you name it.

Surely now someone, somewhere will step in and hold the Government to account over this disgrace.

Housing offices closure U-turn welcomed

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrecsam have welcomed the decision by Wrexham Council's Housing Department not to close Housing Estate offices in Gwersyllt, Brynteg, Caia Park and Plas Madoc and move the service centrally to Rhuthun Road.

The planned closure was initially part of cost cutting measures but strong opposition by Plaid Cymru councillors, staff and unions persuaded the council to shelve the plans.

Gwersyllt Councillor Arfon Jones, who has consistently refused to support the proposals, said:
“While I appreciate the need to carry out service reviews to look for savings this was a step too far. The estate offices do far more than collect rent, they are a well used local centre that provide extensive advice and guidance to council tenants from arrears to environmental issues to repairs. The loss of these offices would result in a deterioration in the quality of service to our tenants.”

Councillor Carrie Harper (Queensway), a member of the Social Affairs, Health and Housing Scrutiny Committee, said:
“I opposed these plans to close the Estate Office from day one but was outvoted by other members on the scrutiny committee. Most of the work I deal with as a councillor involves the Caia Estate office and it would make my work a lot harder if it wasn’t there. The service to tenants would really suffer.”

Councillor Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru's group leader, whose Whitegate ward is also served by the Caia estate office, said:
“Over the last three years great efforts have been made to make the Housing Department in Rhuthun Road ‘fit for purpose’. I don’t think we’ve got there yet and the last thing we want to do is close a valuable local service. We should be looking to take repairs inspectors and other essential staff into the Estate Offices and into the communities to bring the service closer to the people.”

Cllr Jones went on to challenge the Housing Department to explain why they devolved services to estate offices 15 years ago:
“It was said then that it was to improve the service to tenants, so why is centralising the service now deemed to improve the service? What has changed?”

It seems that ICANN the Internet naming board will be expanding the number of internet domain names starting in January 2012. Hopefully included within the available domain names will be the culmination of a long campaign by Sion Jobbins and others. As with all these good news stories there seems to be a downside and the downside to this is that ICANN are using this expansion to charge a fee of $185,000 for registering the domain name. Hopefully the Welsh Government will fund this so as to promote Wales on the world stage.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Meanwhile in the real world...

Plaid's performance in real council by-elections in the past 12 months involving real voters undermines the media spin about the party.

Labour 6,287 votes (32%) winning 8 seats (+4)
Plaid Cymru 5,416 votes (28%) winning 5 seats (unchanged)
Independents 2,995 votes (15%) winning 3 seats (-2)
Conservatives 2,370 votes (12%) winning 1 seat (unchanged)
Liberal Democrats 1,266 votes (7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Others 830 votes (4%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 300 votes (2%) winning 0 seats (unchanged)

Had there been a Plaid candidate in Uwchaled, no doubt that seat would also have been won and we'd have edged a few hundred votes closer to Labour's total.

Next year's council elections will be a real test of how Plaid's grassroots vote and organisation is developing.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Freedom of Information fiasco

I received a long awaited response from the Information Commissioner this morning regarding an FOI I submitted to the Welsh Government back in March 2010. The original request related to matters surrounding the handling of the Powys Fadog project based in Llangollen. Along with others who had submitted FOI's on the same topic, we have spent the last 13 months jumping through numerous hoops of internal reviews and complaints to get the information we're clearly entitled to. Unfortunately other individuals are still going through this process to challenge ridiculous delays in getting information and some of the heavily redacted documents they've been given to date. Even now, I know for a fact that certain information in relation to my request has still not been released.

Finally, a response has come through today confirming that the Welsh Government have breached sections 10(1), 1(1)(b) and 17(1) of the Act in failing to provide responses within 20 working days. The formal decision notice from the Commissioner goes on to list his concern that it took 80 days for the Welsh Government to complete an internal review, that he sees no justification for the delay and that he wishes to register his view that the Welsh Government fell short of the standards of good practise in dealing with the request.

All well and good but who is going to enforce this and ensure something is done about it? Although the Information Commissioner has confirmed the legislation has been breached a number of times, no disciplinary action has been taken and in fact the Information Commissioner is well aware that the Welsh Government are continuing to flout the legislation, with several requests receiving no response at all. Essentially all they've had is a slap on the wrist. Surely when legislation has been broken, disciplinary action should be taken. In these cases, it can be considered that the Information Commissioner is actually complicit with WAG in allowing these breaches to continue. As stated above, several individuals I'm aware of are still waiting with no resolution to their requests. A further request I submitted back in April of this year has taken 40 working days up to now, with the Government simply saying they are considering whether or not to send me the information!

So why are the Welsh Government so reluctant to hand over information on this topic I wonder? So much for openness and transparency.

End of the road for John Bell?

John Bell was a prominent Conservative activist in North East Wales for many years, and has stood as a Conservative candidate in a number of elections.

John has stood for the Conservatives in Delyn (2005), Clwyd South (2007 and 2010) and second choice in Alyn and Deeside in 2011. His most recent attempt at election was a Wrecsam County Borough Council by election in his home village of Marchwiel yesterday.

Unfortunately for John it was yet another rejection when he was defeated by Independent candidate John Pritchard by 302 votes to 172.

Congratulations to Councillor John Pritchard who I understand is a pretty decent and competent guy.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Yr SNP ac Addysg.

Braf roedd gweld Michael Russell ysgrifennydd Addysg yr Alban ac aelod SNP dros Argyll & Bute, yn gneud penderfyniad call a phragmataidd yn gosod moratoriwm ar gau ysgolion bach cefn gwlad am flwyddyn tra mae comisiwn i edrych mewn i addysg mewn ardaloedd gwledig yn ymchwilio. Yn wahanol iawn i Blaid Cymru tydy Russell ddim am danseilio ei bleidlais grai yn ei 'iard gefn' drwy gau 35 o ysgolion cefn gwlad yng nghadarnleoedd yr SNP.

Gwersi amlwg yma i Blaid Cymru a hynny ydy rhoi arweiniad clir i'w Cynghorwyr drwy Gymru...dyda ni ddim yn mynd i gau fwy o ysgolion cefn gwlad HEB gefnogaeth y gymuned lleol.

Trwy ddilyn polisiau pragmataidd ymarferol hwyrach gwnawn ninnau adennill y tir sydd wedi ei golli ers 2008.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Unionists gang up on Salmond!

Leading article in yesterday's Scotsman was an attempt by the free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs to undermine Scotland's case for independence claiming that an independent Scotland would inherit £110 billion of debt and would put Scotland on a par with Greece and Portugal. These figures are of course challenged by Salmond and other Scottish academics stating that Scotland's economy has long been in surplus and that the last SNP government have managed a balanced budget in each of its four years.

This undoubtedly are the first of many shots to be fired by both sides as the arguments for and against independence hots up.

Scottish Power's price rises!

The decision by Scottish Power to raise gas prices by 19% and electricity prices by 10% last week has been met by calls for the company to be punished by consumers by Chris Huhne the Energy Secretary an John Swinney the Scottish Finance Minister has demanded meetings with Scottish Power executives and they may well be summonsed to give evidence before a Holyrood committee. Both should be congratulated for their committment to protect the poor and disadvantagedby challenging Scottish Power's price rises, but what of Wales? Has any of our ministers made any comment; what about Huw Lewis our so called child poverty champion, is he trying to do anything about fuel poverty? It seems to me that we in Wales are standing still on a whole host of issues.

Hands off our water Boris

Tory clown (aka mayor of London) Boris Johnson is suggesting a solution to the current drought facing parts of south-east England. He wants canals built that will transport water from rain-sodden Wales and Scotland to the drought zone:

"Since Scotland and Wales are on the whole higher up than England, it is surely time to do the obvious: use the principle of gravity to bring surplus rain from the mountains to irrigate and refresh the breadbasket of the country in the South and East. It is amazing how much hostility this idea provokes from the very water companies who are currently warning of shortages. If you go to the website of their front organisations, you will find the notion of a water grid denounced as "absurd" and "inefficient". But if you talk to the excellent Professor Roger Falconer, of Cardiff University, he will tell you that they are blinkered and wrong. He has been looking at all sorts of proposals for improving our current network of canals so as to integrate them into the water supply. He talks of linking up Welsh mountain reservoirs via the Wye and the Severn with the Thames, or of sending the water from the Severn and the Trent round to East Anglia – for many years the driest part of the country.
I believe we might go even further, and retrieve J F Pownall's magnificent 1942 plan for a Grand Contour Canal, which would follow the 310 ft contour of the hills all the way from the Scottish borders to the South East."

Apart from confirming our status as England's playground, dumping ground and reservoir of water/labour/energy, it raises the issue of who benefits? Parched parts of England obviously. Less obvious is the benefit to Wales and Scotland.
Back in the 1970s the slogan was "It's Scotland's Oil". Perhaps today we should counter Boris's plan with "It's Wales's water" and charge a fair price for it.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Trinity Mirror.

There has long been concern in Wales about the quality and balance of the written media with only two national papers, the Western Mail and the Wales on Sunday, both owned by Trinity Mirror. Neither do we have in Wales, Welsh editions of the London newspapers since the demise of the Welsh Mirror some years ago.

We in Wales look to Scotland with envy to what could be in terms of quality media with two quality broadsheets in the form of the Scotsman and the Herald as well as the popular Daily Record (with 300,000 sales) and its sister paper the Sunday Mail, together with Scottish editions of the Sun (Scotland's most popular). We see the press in Scotland as having been hugely influential in developing and challenging Scotland's mature democracy.

But all is not well with Scotland's newspapers with the announcement by Trinity Mirror of massive journalistic job losses at the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail.

This has been met by outrage by Labour and SNP MSP's with yesterday's Sunday Herald publishing two pages of comments by nine media experts asking whether the cuts would, "harm the health of the nation itself" This was followed by an excellent editorial, "Troubled Scottish press presents a problem for us all."
Fewer Scottish titles mean a narrower range of voices, a narrower range of opinions and debate, a less effective watchdog and less concentration on Scottish stories, Scottish politics and Scottish culture

It will be interesting to see what actions the Scottish Government will take in respect of this crisis and whether we in Wales will learn any lessons in our attempt to create a more diverse media in Wales or at least one that is not dominated by Trinity Mirror and its in-built bias.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

What has Wales got that England has not...

Sometimes you have to get rid of Facebook "friends". This was the final straw from one such person I'd met during my travels recently, who lives in Wrecsam and yet supports the English Democrats:

Not really going to take advice from plaid if your don't. All they care about is Wales. On ever scale England is better than Wales in my view. Would you agree or disagree with on that. Plus what has Wales got that England has not.

Leave the nonsensical grammar aside it's difficult to know where to start when someone is that deluded. So what do you reckon that Wales has got that England has not?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Health Minister refuses to discuss health project

New Health Minister and Wrecsam’s Labour AM Lesley Griffiths has refused to meet the head of a social enterprise looking to establish a health and well being/cultural centre in Llangollen. The Minister sent a response back to Mr Pol Wong of Powys Fadog Community Development Centre following a meeting request to simply state 'The Minister declines your request', no further explanation was given.

The Powys Fadog centre has been the subject of a plethora of questions to Ministers and AMs, along with calls for a public enquiry to the First Minister Carwyn Jones due to scandalous and unexplained blocks in getting the project off the ground. The group had raised funds for the centre back January 2010, when suddenly the project was stopped by the Permanent Secretary of Wales Gillian Morgan without explanation. Since that time the group have been trying to get to the bottom of what happened but to date, over 16 months later, there has still been no explanation from WAG. With repeated calls from former Clwyd South AM Karen Sinclair for investigations and audits into the project, along with demands for a health centre on the site instead of the Powys Fadog project, Mr Wong felt a meeting with the new Health Minister was both appropriate and urgent. The refusal of the Health Minister to meet Mr Wong follows a previous meeting refusal a year ago by Labours Carl Sargeant, Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration.

The Powys Fadog projects will create up to 30 jobs in Llangollen along with business start ups and training. The project will also be a world class social enterprise that provides preventative health care and remedial therapies through the ancient art of Shaolin Kung Fu. A key objective of the centre will also be a focus on Welsh language and culture, with residential Welsh language courses and cultural tours on offer to both locals and International visitors.

Mr Wong said:
“I’m amazed when we’re in this time of cuts, people losing their jobs and such an emphasis on the strain on our health service, that a project like this is considered not to be part of the Health Ministers portfolio. The incredible thing about this is that the Welsh government has spent a fortune and a ridiculous amount of resources in actually trying to stop the project. However, they are still unable to give a reason why they’re behaving in this way. No body can get any answers from the Welsh government at all. I can find no other way to describe this other than a simple case of discrimination and subsequent cover ups.”

Plaid Cymru's new Assembly Member for North Wales Llyr Huws Gruffydd said:
"I don't understand why the health minister would refuse to meet local people regarding a social enterprise designed to create jobs and improve people's health and wellbeing in the Llangollen area. It suggests that she's already decided against the scheme without listening to both sides of the argument, which is not an encouraging sign from this new government.

"Unfortunately, it's a pattern we've seen before. This scheme has been undermined by some local politicians and Assembly civil servants, despite the potential boost it could also bring in terms of sustainable tourism for the Vale of Llangollen. Given that the building - which is owned by the Welsh Government - is deteriorating on a daily basis, what are Labour ministers doing to bring the old Woodlands Hotel back into use for the benefit of the community?"

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Town centre transport - the bigger picture

About 40 people, mainly representing town centre businesses, attended a meeting at the Guildhall tonight as part of the consultation about the parking plans for the town centre.
While some were only interested in scoring points it was mainly positive. Many good points were raised and it felt like a real consultation, where officers took on board positive proposals and were finding common ground where possible.
Among the concrete proposals that are emerging are plans to charge councillors and senior officers for the Guildhall car park, which is fair enough and could raise many thousands of pounds a year.
It's likely that the plans to charge 50p for the on-street parking bays could be abandoned, reduced or phased in later, which is a compromise that may satisfy small shopkeepers.
But there's a bigger picture that the parking charges are only a small part of - how we make sure our town centre serves the community better. That needs a comprehensive town plan that pulls together all the various interest groups and gets people looking out of their narrow silos.
One aspect of transport that wasn't touched on last night was the re-introduction of buses into the high street - which will be a boost in footfall for the independent traders at that end of town. Increasing congestion at peak times in the town centre also points to a park and ride scheme to ease the situation. This too would make the town more attractive to shoppers.
The need to enhance our unique markets is also key to revitalising the town centre - the council, as landlord, has been flexible but there's still a lot more to be done. If additional funding is to be raised through parking charges, perhaps a commitment that it will go to improving the town centre area would alleviate some of the concerns.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Places for People

Places for People is a non-profit social housing group with 62,000 homes under management. Places for People is offering a bond (Minimum investment £2000) paying an interest rate of 5% for five and a half years thereby using the capital to build more social housing/affordable homes because of the reduction in social housing grants from central government. Places for People manage homes throughout England with subsidiary companies managing homes in Scotland.

Despite being tempted by this excellent investment opportunity I would still rather invest in housing association in Wales i.e Tai Clwyd or Pennaf or even through an umbrella association like Community Housing Cymru (CHC); but are we allowed to buy bonds in Welsh Housing Associations?. Also is there a reason why Local Authorities in Wales cannot sell bonds to bring their housing stock up to the Welsh Quality Housing Standards? Wrecsam Council for example would be able to pay a very competitive interest rate from the £11 million of social housing rents that it gives away to the Treasury EVERY year to subsidise shortfall in the budgets of London Borough's.

We read that Carwyn Jones has been to London today to meet with Cameron and others in the Joint Ministerial Committee where the First Minister raised the issue of Barnett and fair funding, let's hope he remembered to mention the housing subsidy as well.

We need some innovative ideas to raise money for housing in Wales before we are faced with another crisis, will the government deliver?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Remove the ban on Adam!

Wrecsam council today saw another freedom of speech row as the Exec Board heard how the founder of the St. David’s Day parade in Wrecsam has been banned from speaking at future marches by one of the councils Strategic Directors. Mr Adam Philips and his wife Ann have worked tirelessly to establish the parade here in Wrecsam over the last 3 years, which now attracts hundreds of people who parade through the town centre on March 1st.

Adam Philips received a letter on March 9th this year from Strategic Director Phil Walton informing him he would no longer be able to speak at the event due to a ‘complaint’. The letter went on to list a number of accusations against Mr Philips that supposedly breeched council ‘conventions’. These included a reference made to City Status, the fact that Mr Philips raised his fist in the air during the chorus of the national anthem and because he reminded people to vote in the referendum on further law making powers for Wales.

Apart from the fact that the St Davids Day march is not a council event, it soon became clear that the ban had been issued without Mr Philips being able to challenge any of the accusations made. It also seemed to be a problem to produce the said complaint, despite it being requested by both myself and Mr Philips. The complaint did appear in Exec Board today, along with confirmation that it had been submitted by a Wrecsam county councillor on behalf of a member of the public. It made reference to the referendum but strangely did not refer to either city status or the salute. We have to ask who these extra comments came from!?

Although fellow councillors were prevented from debating this issue at today’s meeting on the basis of ‘legal advice’ (ironic considering the topic), several did have an opinion they were happy to share outside the meeting. Questions have certainly been raised as to the motive of the complaint given the heated exchanges taking place within the guildhall at the time between yes and no campaigners regarding the referendum on further powers for Wales. It certainly would be a travesty if an innocent member of the public has been singled out due to political disagreements between Councillors, let’s whole heartedly hope that’s not the case.

Regardless, it’s a sad state of affairs when a member of the public is banned from speaking at an event he’s worked so hard to establish without any clear justification. Given the recent controversy over council proposals to revise the policy on the use of Queens Square by political parties, groups and campaigns, this latest fiasco certainly won’t do anything to boost Wrecsam’s freedom of speech credentials.

Nick's Vision

Nick Ramsay has launched his website in support of his leadership of the Welsh Conservative Party. There is not much new in there just the same regurgitated Tory policy on health although the sub section on Devolution and the Party makes quite interesting reading, a whole page on the party and this one small paragraph on devolution:
I will not seek devolution of further legislative power to the Welsh Assembly – we now have the tools to get on with the job. It’s time to stop marking out the pitch, and time to start playing the game.

There is not a word in the website in Welsh or about the Welsh language; how on earth can a contender for the leadership of the main opposition party in Wales omit any mention of Welsh Medium Education in his campaign.

Rather than seek to educate his members in devolved government and its benefits, Nick Ramsay pampers to the lunatic right wing unionist fringe of his party.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Up the republic

Today will see the Queen of England officially open the fourth National Assembly for Wales amid the ever increasing frenzy that is the media coverage of the latter stages of her reign.
Four Plaid Cymru AMs will boycott her attendance because of their opposition to the monarchy. Congratulations to them all - Bethan Jenkins, Llyr Huws Gruffydd, Lindsay Whittle and Leanne Wood - for making a stand and refusing to bow to an unelected leader.
The move, although symbolic, will hopefully foster a debate about what kind of society we want to live in - one where your life chances are decided by an accident of birth, or a democratic republic where your talents and abilities can flourish.

Quote of the day

"How dare Llyr Huws Gruffydd insult the Queen by calling her unelected, he is obviously not well informed..."

Trevor Roberts, Rhyl
Daily Post letters page

Friday, 3 June 2011

Morrisons newydd yn Wrecsam

Llongyfarchiadau i gwmni Morrisons am ei cefnogaeth i'r iaith Gymraeg yn ei datblygiad newydd yn Wrecsam. Gobeithio y cawn yr un ymrwymiad i'r iaith unwaith fydd y siop wedi agor. Diolch i Wayne Williams am y lluniau.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Cluster Bombs

It's a hell of an indictement on a so called democracy like the United Kingdom that we can bail out a bank like the RBS buying 83% of the bank with our money and then allow that same bank to invest in companies that produce cluster bombs whose use are banned under UK and international law.

What sort of government allows this unethical and immoral trading to go on?

Sounds just the job for an ukuncut campaign!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Muddy waters over Wrecsam free speech

Tonight's Corporate Governance scrutiny committee discussed the revised proposals over allowing political parties, groups and campaigns to use Queens Square for their activities.
The report gave the impression that there had been a dramatic u-turn by officers on the matter, so that there was now no legal right to ban political activity and free speech in the square. In practice, we were told, any political group can set up a stall in Queen Square in the same way as they can in the high street or any other part of the public highway.
However, attempts to clarify this soon ran into trouble as officers started to muddy the waters. Firstly, this freedom would not apply during an election period.
In addition, there was some confusion over the size of the stall.
Finally there was continued confusion about whether the council's remit extended over all the square, given that part of it was public highway, and whether market traders were being unfairly discriminated against. Cllr David Kelly made some valid points about the size of the pitch groups or traders were hiring - the proposed charges do not make it clear whether the hirer is getting the entire square for the charge or just a section of it. There is no sense of proportionality and officers conceded it was down to what they could charge various organisations - the thinking being that Sky was in a better position to pay a higher fee than most organisations.
No problem with that, and we had some success in dropping the charge on Wrecsam-based charities such as Nightingale House, who will now not pay £30 for the privilege of hiring the square or part of it.