Saturday, 31 March 2012

Flintshire Tenant's Reject Stock Transfer.

On the 28th March 2012, the Daily Post published a comprehensive report on the result of the ballot of council house tenants in Flintshire on whether to vote in favour of outsourcing or transferring the housing stock out of the control of Flintshire Council. The tenants voted overwhelmingly against. To access the link to the article go here.

The following is a related letter which I sent to the Editor of the Daily Post for publication on the same day:

Dear Editor,
Council tenants in Flintshire are to be congratulated on their emphatic No vote to privatise council housing “We can’t afford to fix council houses..” (DP, March 28) It’s a great shame that the Local Authority was required by Welsh Government to undertake such a wasteful and expensive process; the £1 million cost of the referendum could after all have been spent refurbishing hundreds of kitchens.

Whilst welcoming Aaron Shotton’s late intervention into the debate of a fairer funding settlement for council housing, Plaid Cymru have been campaigning for years against the Housing Subsidy system where up to a third of council house rents goes to the Treasury in London. In the case of Wrecsam Council, £11 million of money that could be used to repair and maintain our 11,000 council houses goes to London; Welsh Councils are the only councils in the UK that still has this unfair burden of taxation.

I very much hope that Mark Tami and other Labour MP’s who have been silent on this issue will now join in with Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards in his campaign to abolish the subsidy.

Cynghorydd/Councillor Arfon Jones,

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wrecsam Council backs Plaid call to reject 12,000 housing demand

Wrecsam Council tonight agreed to back our motion opposing attempts to impose 12,000 new houses on our borough. Despite attempts by Labour to stop the motion, they eventually and reluctantly backed the call to respect local community wishes to limit development. This is how the motion was presented:

We are in total agreement in our opposition to attempts by the Planning Inspectorate to impose unsustainable housing development on Wrecsam. In this, we’re supported by the people of Wrecsam, who made it clear during a two-year consultation that they did not want excessive levels of housing built on our playing fields and green spaces. We have a duty to listen to that consultation and to represent our communities, where we have already seen large-scale housing developments over the past decade.

To continue with that level of development would threaten our communities in terms of our schools, our road networks, our health service, our identity and social cohesion.

We need a housing strategy that addresses the very real housing needs in Wxm – affordable homes to meet local community need. I challenge anyone here not to be aware of the pressure for more genuinely affordable housing that is within reach of local pockets.

That is a world away from the top-down and abstract projections made by the Welsh Government’s officials, which in turn allowed the Planning Inspector to announce that we need to up the numbers of houses from 8,055 to 11,700 – a 45% increase. More specifically, the inspector said this would mean building on open spaces and green fields because this is what housing developers want.

That is not what Wrecsam people want. Do we really need to repeat the argument against building on the Nine-Acre Field? Do we need to spell out that the green barriers that separate our villages should not be eroded and Tarmaced over?

More importantly, should we put up with a Planning Inspector dictating to an entire borough about an issue that will have fundamental implications for our future?

That’s why we’ve brought this motion before you – to ensure that the democratic voice of Wrecsam is heard loud and clear. We’ve seen this kind of rapid development for the past decade and that past decade has seen affordability become a bigger problem. Building houses in our communities without regard for local people does not solve problems, it makes them worse.

Please support this motion; send a clear message to the Planning Inspectorate and, more importantly, to the people of Wrecsam that we have listened to them and we are acting on their behalf.


"Given the significant levels of public concern and objections to Planning Inspectorate proposals to significantly increase the housing allocation in the LDP and allocate greenfield land for housing, this Council:

1) supports housing development based on local wishes that is affordable and accessible to the local community;

2) does not support unsustainable large-scale development based on flawed population projections;

3) calls upon the Welsh Government to conduct a major review of planning policy in Wales with the aim of halting urban sprawl and better reflecting the needs of the local community;

4) calls upon the Welsh Government to implement an immediate moratorium on large-scale housing development of greenfield land outside settlement limits whilst it conducts this review;

5) invites all other councils in Wales to support this call."

Yn sgil pryderon y cyhoedd a'r gwrthwynebiad i fwriad y Arolygwyr Cynllunio i gynyddu'n sylweddol y nifer o dai yn y Cynllun Datblygu Lleol a defnyddio tir glas ar gyfer tai, mae'r Cyngor yma yn:

1) Cefnogi datblygiadau tai yn seiliedig ar ddymuniadau lleol ag sy'n fforddiadwy ac ar gael i'r gymuned leol;

2) gwrthod cefnogi datblygiadau mawr anghynaliadwy yn seiliedig ar rhagamcanion poblogaeth methiedig;

3) galw ar LLywodraeth Cymru i gynnal arolwg manwl o bolisi cynllunio yng Nghymru gyda'r bwriad o roi stop ar orddatblygu ac adlewyrchu anghenion lleol yn well;

4) galw ar Llywodraeth Cymru i roi stop ar ddatblygiadau tai mawrion ar dir glas tu allan i gymunedau tra cynhelir yr adolygiad yma;

5) gwahodd pob cyngor arall yng Nghymru i gefnogi hyn.

The cross-party support for this motion further isolates Labour AM Ken Skates and Labour MP Susan Elan Jones, who have been actively arguing for these 12,000 homes. If they can't even persuade their own Labour councillors, who spend more time in the area than they do, what hope is there for convincing the rest of the local population.

Wrecsam now joins Conwy in standing up to the flawed population projections and challenging the Planning Inspectorate and Welsh Government's bureaucrats. Other councils are also under pressure to build on greenfield sites - watch this space for growing resistance!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Labour Hypocrites.

It is all very well for Labour MP's to criticise the Con Dem budget, especially the reduction of the highest rate of tax from 50 to 45% on incomes over £150,000; but what do they do when they have the opportunity? The answer is of course nothing!

Last night in the House of Commons Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens forced a vote on the 50% rate which was supported by ONLY two Labour MP's (Flynn and Skinner), the others abstained; so much for being an effective opposition and so much for fighting for fairness.

Interestingly my MP Ian Lucas has failed to respond to my tweet:

Did @ianclucas abstain on a vote to oppose cutting highest rate of tax from 50 to 45%. Ask him the question? @wrexham
This is despite tweeting this after the budget:

@IanCLucas: There are just 4,000 individuals who pay the top rate of tax in Wales. Tories and Lib-Dems cut their tax at the expense of the rest. Fair?
No, it isn't fair Ian; but the question the people of Wrexham want to know is, "Did you do all you could to oppose it"


Great follow up article from Newsnet Scotland, " Leaked emails pile pressure on Labour to explain Tory tax screw up."

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Regressive Taxation

Now I don't claim to be no expert on taxation despite having studied economics some years ago but its pretty obvious that this budget is in fact a 'regressive budget' ( a regressive tax imposes a greater burden on the poor than on the rich), probably one of the most regressive budgets I recall. Without complicating matters or jumping on the 'granny' tax bandwagon let's just consider income tax rates:

In 2013/14 the basic rate allowance will be reduced by £2,125, which means that in 2012/13 you could earn £34,370 before paying 40% tax, but in 2013/14 you can only earn £32,245 before you start paying 40% tax which means that more people will be paying higher rates of tax on lower incomes.

Compare this to the reduction of a 50% tax rate on incomes over £150,000 to 45% in 2013/14, a situation which exactly opposite to the above... these people will be paying a lower rate of tax on higher incomes.

The argument for the reduction in the 50% rate is two fold, the tax doesn't raise a lot of revenue and secondly its to encourage entrepreneurship and investment in the economy; but what about those on lower incomes, don't they save, don't they invest through funds in businesses? Of course they do but all this budget has done is reduced their disposable income and consequently the 'savings rate.'

It is a situation that will undoubtedly come back to haunt Cameron and Osborne.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Lord Trimble 'does violence'!

Lord Trimble the Conservative peer and ex leader of the Ulster Unionist and Nobel Peace Prize winner should be the last person to use the word 'violence' lightly, but use it he did today in a speech to the Scottish Conservative conference at Troon, Ayrshire. Lord Trimble described the SNP's independence campaign as "Doing violence to people's identity.". He goes on to say:
"I have to say to Scottish Nationalists that by fighting for a programme of separatism, saying that you want to take Scotland out and take the Scottish identity out into a separate place, you are doing violence to part of the identity of every Scotsman, because there is a British component in the identity of every Scotsman. And to separate that is to do violence to people's own sense of identity."
Although a Nobel Peace Prize winner there is no doubt in mind that Trimble is reminding Scottish Unionists of the other long and painful war of resistance by Ulster Unionists against an united Ireland. There were other words that Trimble could have used but he chose the word 'violence' because of the emotional link with unionist resistance in the North of Ireland.

SNP MSP Humza Yousaf in responding to Trimble said:
"This is exactly what David Cameron and Ruth Davidson didn't want - their much-promised positive case for the Union hasn't even survived the Tory launch event, and now lies in tatters. It is precisely this sort of negative nonsense that is so damaging to the Tory-led anti-independence campaign. Lord Trimble couldn't be more wrong about Scotland. Independence is the broad, inclusive and positive option for Scotland, in which the wide range of identities we have in our modern nation - Scottish, British, Pakistani, Chinese, Polish, Irish and many, many more - can all be reflected and celebrated." 
 For a so called mainstream politician Lord Trimble has behaved in a wholly irresponsible manner.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Llongyfarchiadau mawr i Gyngor Sir Conwy am wrthwynebu yn unfrydol arghymellion yr Arolygwr Cynllunio i gynyddu y nifer tai fydd angen yn y Sir o dan y Cynllun Datblygu Lleol. A fuasa hyn wedi digwydd heb arweiniad Plaid Cymru ar Gyngor Sir Conwy? Mae angen i Gynghorau Sir gweddill Cymru nawr neud yr un peth ac i Lywodraeth Cymru gymeryd cyfrifoldeb dros gynllunio ar fyrder.

Is Wales Really as Poor as Romania?

HT to Straight Statistics for this excellent article following the release of Eurostat data on GDP that purport to show that some regions of Wales are poorer than 'a region of Romania.' The article demolishes the superficial debate on the subject including the comments of the much heralded Tory spokesperson on the economy, Professor Dylan Jones Evans. The article is worth reproducing in full:
There is wailing and gnashing of teeth in Wales at the disclosure, through Eurostat data, that two thirds of the principality by area is poorer than a region of Romania. “How on earth have we fallen below a part of Romania in the prosperity table?” asked an editorial last week in the Western Mail.

To put the comparison in perspective, the region of Wales being unfavourably compared to Romania – West Wales and the Valleys – is not a natural division of the country, but a construct devised back in 2000 to make the most of EU structural funds. By combining Wales’ poorest areas into a “region” that bears no relation to geography or history, it was possible to create an area where GDP per capita fell below 75 per cent of the EU average, qualifying it for aid from EU structural funds. This was known at the time as Objective 1 status.

Furthermore, the region of Romania used in the comparison is not a remote rural district, most of which are considerably poorer than any part of Wales, but the region that includes the capital, Bucharest. Capital cities generate high rates of GDP per capita, not least because people commute into them from surrounding areas and their productive capacity is counted where they work, not where they live.

Capitals are also the base for the civil service and the headquarters of companies. Inner London has a GDP per capita more than three times the EU average – it is comfortably the wealthiest “region” in Europe. Outer London, however, has a per capita GDP marginally below the EU average. West Wales and the Valleys excludes Cardiff, the capital of Wales. So these comparisons have to be handled carefully.

More carefully, certainly, than the contribution made yesterday by Dylan Jones-Evans, economic adviser to the Welsh Conservative Party, writing in the Daily Post. He writes: “Back in 2000 when we first received European funding, West Wales and the Valleys was the sixth most prosperous Objective 1 region in Europe with a GDP per head of 17,300 Euros. However, by 2008 the region had fallen to 42nd out of 50 regions with a GDP/head of 15,700 Euros.”

Has this huge area of Wales really suffered a lost decade of declining incomes? Measured in Euros, yes. In 2000 the pound was riding high, worth over €1.7 at its peak. Today it stands at just over €1.2. So a growth of GDP per capita from just over £10,000 a year to just over £13,000 in West Wales and the Valleys between 2000 and 2008 translates into a decline when denominated in Euros.

The shifting exchange rate is, indeed, largely responsible for the apparently poor economic showing of this region of Wales, and for many other regions of the UK (see Table). GDP per capita, measured in purchasing power standards, has fallen relative to the rest of Europe in most areas of the UK and in some of them, including East Wales, at a faster rate than in West Wales and the Valleys.

So, relatively speaking, East Wales has performed worse than West Wales and the Valleys, where the EU funds have probably made some difference. It’s undeniable, however, that Wales as a whole has done relatively poorly.

That is also in large part the result of shifts in the exchange rate. In the 1990s, Wales ran a very successful policy of attracting large manufacturing companies: in employment terms, it was the UK’s only growing manufacturing region. But the high exchange rate of the pound at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s had a disastrous effect, encouraging companies to relocate and causing a rapid decline in jobs over a short period.

Some relocated to the countries newly acceding to the EU, others to Asia. The Welsh model had failed, thanks in part to an overvalued pound. Now the effects of that setback look worse because of an undervalued pound.

It’s right that politicians and media in Wales look closely at how the EU funds have been used, and whether the new model for development is robust. But some of the claims being made are based on a partial reading of the statistics.

Link to the article

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Caia Park Communities First in crisis

First it was the chair and key board members from Caia Park Communities First who resigned. Now it appears that long-standing coordinator Gary Jones has also quit his job at the company, which has an annual income of more than £800,000.
This is the BBC's account of the first set of resignations:
Five out of 16 people have resigned from a company set up to help people on a Wrexham estate, due to concerns about how the project will be run.
Former chair of Caia Park's Communities First Board (CPCF), Christine Thomas, said some people could lose out due to proposed changes. Not everyone agrees and one board member said the changes would allow more spending on front-line services.
There are plans for Wrexham council to take over the CPCF role from September. The current CPCF is a company limited by guarantee on a not-for-profit basis. Bids for funding were sent to the Welsh government for approval and then, if accepted, the CPCF was responsible for overseeing the spending.But the Wales-wide review of Communities First will mean structural changes taking place.
For Caia Park it will mean joining up with Hightown and losing its financial independence, with Wrexham council taking over as lead development body. At the Caia Park Board on Tuesday, members were presented with the resignation of five of the six "resident" members.
Their resignation letters all said they were unhappy with the way in which the issue of local community involvement was heading. Three of them said that deteriorating health was also a major factor. Former chair Ms Thomas said while change was inevitable, the system which had been in place for the past 10 years had been praised as "best practice" by the Senedd, and the members had experience.
She said concerns about the future, coupled with health problems, had prompted her to step down."My main concern is that I don't feel that the community consultation has been enough, so not everyone is involved," she said."We've had quite a few successes in Wrexham, and Caia Park, so I do wish the programme well in the next 10 years," she added.
Board member Malcolm King, who is also a Caia Park county councillor and is staying on, said the resignations all at once "came as quite a shock, although in many ways not a surprise".
He said three members had been suffering from ill-health, and there was a lot of disappointment about the apparent loss of independence as well as unhappiness about some of the processes.He said the loss of experience on the board would "undoubtedly be a significant loss" and he was sorry to see them go.Mr King added that he was optimistic about the future.
"We must not forget the reason why we are doing this and that is that Caia Park suffers from some of the highest levels of child poverty and educational deprivation in the whole of Wales and we must all dedicate ourselves to this task and not be distracted from it," he said.

The past decade has seen millions of money channelled into Caia Park through Communities First, as is the case with many other deprived areas of Wales. What is less evident is whether the project has lived up to its billing in terms of empowering the local community.
It has funded local projects such as Deva House and The Venture, but the key work of getting the community to stand on its own two feet has been a missed opportunity. This is, in part, down to the needless duplication that occurred initially.
There was already a community-based organisation in the Park - Caia Park Partnership - that delivers services, has hundreds of active volunteers and employs a large of people through a variety of self-financing social enterprises. This expertise has taken more than a decade to foster and imposing another community organisation on the area from above was a recipe for empire building and needless competition.
Whether there are other issues to emerge from these sudden resignations remains to be seen. An emergency board meeting today (Tuesday) will decide on a course of action.

Update: cllrs Keith Gregory and Ron Prince have also resigned from the board.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Marching in support of Remploy workers

Workers at the threatened Remploy factory together with their supporters will hold a solidarity march through Wrecsam on Saturday.

The march starts at the Remploy offices at Regent House, Regent St (opposite the old Art College) at 10am and all local people are urged to join the march to support the campaign to keep the factory open.

Plaid Cymru has made its view clear - the Tory/Lib Dem coalition cuts will wipe out Remploy from Wales. We call on the Welsh Government to put together a package similar to that being organised by Wrecsam council to ensure there are sufficient contracts for the workforce to set up a social enterprise or cooperative to run the organisation.

The £2.2m annual contract for kitchens in Wrecsam council houses is a huge boost to the local plant, an example of how local procurement can work to ensure the money spent by public bodies stays in the local economy.

The decision to axe the funding for these disabled workers mirrors a similarly disgraceful move back in 2007 when Labour decided to cut hundreds of Remploy jobs in Wales.

Our Allies!

On the 12th March 2012, PPP a polling company carried out a survey of identified Republican supporters in Alabama and Mississippi, the results are frankly worrying. The following illustrate the point:

1. Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian, Muslim, or are not sure?

Christian 14%
Muslim 45%
Not sure 41%

2. Do you believe in evolution or not?

Believe in evolution 26%
Do not believe 60%
Not sure 13%

3. Do you think interracial marriages should be legal or illegal?

Legal 67%
Illegal 21%
Not sure 12%

These values are not our values so tell me why are we going to war with these, our so called allies?

I don't believe it !

I must say I'm struggling for a title for this blog, strong words like incompetent had crossed my mind but then I thought Richard Wilson's famous phrase sums up my exasperation and frustration succinctly.

Why am I exasperated and frustrated? Well it all boils down to the following advert that was forwarded to me by what sounds like an irate taxpayer from either Flintshire or Wrecsam:

Do you want to make it easier to do business in the Flintshire and Wrexham area? Do you find it difficult to understand what you have to do to comply with regulation? Do you want to change how you are regulated?


Thursday 22nd March

8.00am for 8.30am - 10.30am (refreshments provided)

At the Holiday Inn Chester South

(Formerly the Post House Hotel Chester)

Then you should attend

I wish someone could tell me why Wrecsam and Flintshire would want to host business training in Chester? Don't tell me, its because Flintshire don't want it in Wrecsam and Wrecsam don't want it in Flintshire, so to keep everyone happy we'll host it in Chester.

What were they thinking of?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A challenge to Ken Skates

Ken Skates, the Labour AM for Clwyd South, seems to be on a mission to attack Plaid Cymru at the moment. This intervention in the Senedd yesterday suggests he's a little miffed with Plaid councillors in Wrecsam:

Ken Skates: With regard to Plaid’s motion, it sometimes disappoints me when there is a difference between what is said in the Chamber and what is delivered on the ground. To speak directly about my constituency, we have a position in the Wrexham area where Plaid Cymru talks in its manifesto about increasing the availability and the building of affordable homes, but in my constituency, councillors are opposing the increase in homes. This is against a backdrop of a threefold increase in homelessness in the Wrexham area since 2009.

Waiting lists are stretched, and the construction industry is strained, but this is being driven by the dogma and prejudice of opposition. I give way to the Member.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: I am disappointed at the severe lack of understanding of the situation in relation to the comments being made about local development plans in Wrexham. The whole point is that housing is developed in an organic way that responds to local needs, and not in a top-down way based on figures dictated to local authorities. Would you not agree?

Kenneth Skates: You mention local needs, but on the ground, your councillors do not agree with the local needs. Your councillors are fighting—

Llyr Huws Gruffydd rose

Kenneth Skates: No, I am not giving way again. The point is that your councillors are being driven by dogma and prejudice. You should know this—you employ one of them.

At the risk of being labelled dogmatic and prejudiced (and I should point out I'm doing this in my free time, Ken), the AM needs to back up his own rhetoric with some facts. Here's a few he might be unaware of:

- His Labour colleagues were among those who backed the council's LDP proposals for 8,000 new homes over the next decade. They are as appalled at the inspector's insistence on 11,700 as the rest of us.

- The inspector also insisted on fewer affordable homes as a proportion of these houses because developers didn't like that sort of thing. Obviously the developers have a powerful ally on their side in the shape of the local AM.

- Building an additional 3,700 homes means building on public open spaces and extending settlement boundaries. The last Labour council tried to build on the Nine-Acre Field in Wrecsam - does Skates now advocate that?

- If not the Nine-Acre Field, on which fields does Skates want to build these 3,700 additional homes (the equivalent of a new village the size of Coedpoeth and Johnstown)?

- The LDP was formulated after a two-year consultation with thousands of respondents throughout the borough. The overwhelming view of local residents was to build on brownfield sites, to maximise the level of affordable homes and to reject the idea that we build commuter estates rather then for local needs. Does Skates reject their opinions as "dogmatic" and "prejudiced"?

- During the past decade, when 1,000 homes a year were built in the borough, the waiting lists grew in Wrecsam. Building executive houses that are beyond the reach of most local people's pockets does not solve that problem.

- Granting permission for thousands of unaffordable homes does not immediately stimulate the construction industry - the private housing developers are not building now because they're waiting for the market to pick up. If he was serious about creating jobs in the construction industry, he would be lobbying his Labour Government for funding for councils to build more council housing.

Skates accuses Plaid councillors of "dogma and prejudice". So much so, he managed to repeat the phrase in twice, fair play.

If Ken Skates wants a serious debate about ensuring we have more affordable housing in Wrecsam, let's have a public debate and see where local support lies.

• In the same debate, Ken Skates also misled in the Assembly Chamber about Plaid Cymru's support or otherwise for the proposed supermarket development in Llangollen. He claimed: "Who is at the forefront of opposition (to the supermarket)? Plaid Cymru activists".
In fact the chair of Llangollen Town Council, perhaps Llangollen's most prominent Plaid activist, was among those who voted for the proposal.
When challenged after the debate he said he was referring to a Plaid member who had "liked" a Facebook page supporting local shops. Is this what he terms "the forefront of opposition"?

Facts or "dogma and prejudice"?

They're laughing at you, Ramsay, not with you...

Taken from the Assembly record of proceedings:

Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru): Could you name me one country where austerity measures are working, please? Just one.

Nick Ramsay (Tory): Greece. [“Laughter.”]

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Planning inspector throws out Brymbo appeal

The much-heralded appeal by Brymbo Developments Ltd against Wrecsam Council's refusal to permit yet more new housing on a green field site at Brymbo has been dismissed.

The planning inspector decided that councillors were right to ignore their officers' recommendations because
"the proposed development would be inappropriate in a Green Barrier and result in urban encroachment into the countryside."

The inspector also stated that it was
"unsatisfactory that a development that would clearly breach the principles of the development plan should be permitted to resolve infrastructure funding issues and do not outweigh the harm caused to the Green Barrier."
So one planning inspector at least recognises, as do the people of Wrecsam, the importance of safeguarding our green barrier and not expanding settlement boundaries to suit the big housing developers' wishes. Unfortunately, the planning inspector who threw out the Local Development Plan took a very different view and is demanding that the council DOES build on Green Barrier and extends village and town settlement boundaries to enable a further 12,000 new houses (the vast majority of which will be unaffordable) to be built in the borough in the next decade.

The reaction on the streets to our new petition against the proposed expansion was fierce - people want to protect green fields, they don't want more unaffordable housing and are keen to see the council start building houses to meet local community need.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Welsh and Irish Press !

So its not only our papers here in Wales that directs, 'bile and hatred' towards the Welsh language; the same is happening in Ireland. HT to ANSIONNACHFIONN for constantly challenging negative attitudes to all things Celtic and Gaelic.

This article by Ann Marie Hourihane is frankly a disgrace particularly the last paragraph linking Irish speakers with terrorism and intolerance:
“…I wrote that the Irish language was our equivalent of the hijab, the headscarf worn by orthodox Muslim women as a badge of identity and compliance, a figleaf to cover a web of unacknowledged weaknesses.”

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Councillors reject pay rise

At tonight's full council meeting, all but five councillors agreed to reject the Independent Renumeration Panel's recommendation to raise councillors' basic allowances by £490 a year. At a time when council workers are facing a third year of pay freeze, it's crazy to even be thinking of giving councillors a pay rise.
We are all in this together.