Monday, 24 June 2013

Plaid Cymru calls on Council to restrict access to Pay-day loan websites from public access computers.


Press Release


Plaid Cymru calls on Council to restrict access to Payday loan websites from Public access computers.

Plaid Cymru's  Wrecsam Councillor,  Arfon Jones has written to the Leader and Chief Executive of Wrecsam Council asking them to restrict access to the hundred and more payday loan companies from Wrecsam Council's public computers

Councillor Jones said, "The Payday loan industry has fallen foul of the Office of Fair Trading for unfair practises, exploitation and high interest rate. They exploit vulnerable people which is unacceptable and unethical. Council's have a responsibility to the public they represent and we should do what we can to prevent these companies exploiting the public. We should block access on our computers and re-direct enquirers to websites like the North Wales Credit Union."

He went on to say, "I wrote to Neil Rogers and Helen Paterson last week and I very much hope to receive a positive response from them soon."

Plaid Cymru's prospective Parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, Carrie Harper said, "I don't understand why the Westminster Government don't cap the total cost of loans, it is irresponsible to allow these unethical companies to charge what they like. There 's a weight of evidence to support regulation of the consumer credit market and if Westminster won't do it we should demand that the power is devolved to Wales so that we can regulate and protect our communities."

Notes for Editors



Councillor Arfon Jones 01978 755048 /07800545716.

Letter to Neil Rogers:

Neil,

Could I ask that Lead Members and SLT consider my request to block Payday loan websites on Wrexham CBC public computer system. The reason is simply that the OFT, Which, CAB and other consumer organisations have raised concerns over these companies working practises in that they are exploitative of the poor an vulnerable and charge exorbitant interest rates. Can I suggest that when one searches for one of the 140 odd websites that our system is programmed to re-direct to the North Wales Credit Union website.

If we can reduce the use of payday loans in Wrecsam we increase disposable income which hopefully will be spent locally, this is a win win situation. 

Arfon Jones

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Press give politicians an easy ride!

On the 17th June 2013, I sent this letter to the Daily Post and the Leader, but to date they haven't published it. The question is why not? Do we not deserve to know where our elected representatives stand on an important issue of regional benefit which if introduced will make thousands of people in Wrecsam alone, poorer?

Dear Editor,

The 'de facto' leader of the opposition Ed Balls has suggested that we should have regional benefits in the UK, where those living in London and the South East should have more benefits than those living in the rest of the country. Some MP's like Newcastle's, Nick Brown has immediately opposed this realising the damage it would cause his constituents in the North East.

Unsurprisingly North East Wales's New Labour loyalist MP's have remained surprisingly quiet on the matter.

Perhaps you would allow me to publicly challenge whether Ian Lucas, Susan Elan Jones, Mark Tami and David Hanson  support Ed Balls proposal for Regional benefits?

A straight answer would be appreciated.

Councillor Arfon Jones
Plaid Cymru
Wrecsam Council

Ian Lucas MP for one had plenty to say about this when David Cameron broached the subject back in 2012, but has gone a rather quiet since his Labour colleague Ed Balls mentioned the same thing last week,. It seems that this is another Tory policy that Ed Balls and Labour seem intent on enthusiastically implementing.

This was an ideal opportunity for the Post and Leader to hold our politicians to account but unfortunately it was an opportunity lost.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Winston Roddick's response to the Home Office.

 
North Wales PCC, Winston Roddick's response to the Home Secretary's proposal to bring the fire and ambulance services under the control of PCCs:
 
"There is already collaboration between the Police and other emergency service, as well as other agencies. This partnership working is vital for securing effective and efficient services.
 
"However, to bring the fire and ambulance services under the control of Commissioners seems premature at this point.
 
"We have only been in office for just over 6 months. There is a need for us, as elected representatives, to demonstrate progress against our manifesto commitments and Police and Crime Plan.
 
"Furthermore, the fire and ambulance services are devolved while policing and criminal justice remain under the UK government. This brings  added complexity and calls for further consideration of the proposals in Wales."

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

SLOW BROADBAND HINDERS BUSINESSES ON INDUSTRIAL ESTATE


Plaid challenge to improve internet connection 'from the Dark Ages'


Slow broadband connections are hindering businesses on the North's largest industrial estate.

That's the finding of a survey of more than 30 companies operating on the Wrecsam Industrial Estate by Plaid Cymru's North Wales Assembly Member Llyr Gruffydd. Three-quarters of the businesses surveyed said they were unhappy with their broadband provision. Mr Gruffydd has already raised concerns about the lack of superfast broadband for the estate after receiving complaints about the Welsh Government's inactivity.

More than half the companies surveyed (55%) said they would consider moving off the estate to get guaranteed faster broadband. More than 90% said that fast broadband was "essential" or "important" to their business.

On the eve of a visit to Wrecsam by BT's Welsh boss Ann Beynon, Mr Gruffydd said this was a wonderful opportunity to back local business in the region's largest industrial estate. 
 Llyr Gruffydd said: "Speedy broadband is as vital to modern industry as good road and rail infrastructure. The survey reveals how important good broadband speeds on Wrecsam industrial estate are to local businesses if they are to remain competitive.

"BT has recently been awarded a Ł56 million contract to roll out high-speed broadband connections throughout Wales. It’s an enormous concern that BT has no commercial plans to upgrade the Dutton Dyffeth exchange and bring high-speed broadband to Wrexham Industrial Estate. Worse still, it seems that Welsh Government has also made the estate a low priority, and has not included the estate as part of the Next Generation programme. I hope Ann Beynon listens to the needs of local industry so we can safeguard jobs and enterprises in the area.

"I know the local council is very concerned that poor broadband provision could see existing businesses relocating and deter new enterprises. Local firms are putting up with broadband from the Dark Ages and I’m worried that poor provision is holding back investment and actually deterring firms from locating there.

"One individual stated in a letter that ‘I am now at a point where it is quicker to travel home (4 miles) to upload/download files during the day, this significantly affects production on a daily basis and unless something can be done I will be forced to consider moving from the area to new premises where faster access is available’.

"Clearly that is unacceptable and that's why I raised this matter with the First Minister Carwyn Jones in the Senedd back in April  and will continue to press for better broadband connections. The industrial estate is a key to maintaining quality employment in the area and, to do that, we need to see 21st Century broadband connections. When Plaid was in government with the One Wales government (2007-11), we financed the new link road to the estate to replace the sub-standard rural road access. Now we need to see a similar commitment to upgrade the broadband access, otherwise we will see the estate stagnate and fail to attract new enterprises."


 =======================================================================

DETAILS OF THE SURVEY

31 companies based on the industrial estate contacted via Survey Monkey responded.

1. How happy are you with your company's broadband connection at Wrexham Industrial Estate
 Very happy              0.0%
Happy                   25.8%
Not happy               51.6%
Very unhappy            22.6%

2. To maximise broadband speed, the Fibrespeed connection has been developed for the Industrial Estate. Has this option worked for your company?

Yes, we use Fibrespeed and are happy with the service           3.2%
Yes, we use Fibrespeed but are not happy with the service       0.0%
We are considering using Fibrespeed                             16.1%
No, Fibrespeed is too expensive                         58.1%
No, Fibrespeed does not meet our company's needs                22.6%

ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- We have not been offered & have not heard of Fibrespeed

- unaware of this

- Fibre to the premises is to expensive. We need FTTC from BT

- To my knowledge (and having spoken to BT), we are only capable of receiving ADSL2 speed and not fibre. No mention of Fibrespeed connection has been made to our company.

- Never heard about Fibrespeed! Use BT

3. How important is speedy broadband for your business?

Essential                       45.2%
Important                       45.2%
Not important                   9.7%
We don't use the internet       0.0%

4. Would guaranteed faster broadband elsewhere tempt to you....

14 did not answer (45%)

Of those 17 who did...
Relocate off the industrial estate?      70.6%
Relocate out of Wrexham?                29.4%

5. How much would you be willing to pay for high-speed broadband?

Up to £1,000 a year  75.0% 15
£1-5,000  20.0% 4
£5-10,000  5.0% 1
£10-15,000   0.0% 0
11 did not respond



Monday, 17 June 2013

Teresa May and a Constitutional Crisis.

The Home Secretary, Teresa May has according to the Sunday Times instructed her civil servants to draw up plans for the Police and Crime Commissioners to take responsibility for ALL 'blue light emergency services' which includes the Ambulance and Fire & Rescue Services.

This plan may cause the Home Secretary considerable problems in Wales where the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue Services are devolved responsibilities whilst Policing and criminal justice are Westminster functions. The question is whether Teresa May is aware of this and whether its an attempt to undermine devolution or is it purely that devolution in Wales doesn't register on her radar.

Does Carwyn Jones have sufficient clout to tell Teresa May to butt out or are we heading for a constitutional crisis, or even an opportunity to devolve Policing and Criminal Justice.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans: has the privacy of anyone in Wales has been breached?

Good work by Jill, looking after the privacy interests of her constituents who use Apple or Android smartphones and tablets.
 
MEPs demand answers on US surveillance programme
Plaid MEP Jill Evans has joined colleagues in the European Parliament in demanding answers about the US PRISM surveillance programme.
UK intelligence agency GCHQ has been linked to the PRISM programme which is said to allow United States intelligence services access to private online communications through the world's biggest internet companies. These include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.
The matter was the subject of an urgent debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
MEPs are demanding that the European Commission raise any breaches of EU data protection provisions directly with US authorities at a bilateral meeting that will take place this Friday.
It is alleged that the US controlled PRISM programme has allowed GCHQ to get around existing legal processes to gain access to personal online communications which could include emails, photos and videos. Germany has particularly strict data privacy laws, yet is reportedly one of the most heavily monitored countries in the surveillance programme. It is reported that the German Justice Minister Sabine has demanded an explanation, and that Chancellor Merkel would raise the issue with President Obama when he makes his state visit to Berlin.
Jill Evans MEP, who represents the whole of Wales in the European Parliament, said:
"These revelations raise fundamental questions about democracy and privacy.
"I share the outrage of many people that US intelligence agencies apparently have easy access to our online personal data. Mass surveillance of citizens is unacceptable. We have to ensure that we adopt the strictest data protection standards in the EU in response to this. We have to have the assurance that our privacy is not being breached. So many of us depend on the convenience of communicating online and we want to continue to do that in the knowledge that the system is not being abused.
"I am writing to the UK Foreign Secretary to ask whether the data of anyone in Wales has been accessed without their knowledge in this way. It would be a very serious matter if in fact GCHQ has been using US intelligence agencies as a way of circumventing UK legislation."



Tuesday, 11 June 2013

More restrictions on our freedom and rights to free speech.

It's not the US this time but our neighbours in Eíre that are restricting our freedoms by trying to legislate to allow the Irish Government to shut down mobile phone transmissions if they fear a terrorist threat. They want President Higgins to sign the bill into law before the commencement of the G8 conference in County Fermanagh next week. 

The question is why would Eíre want to pass legislation to control activities outside its own territorial boundaries; County Fermanagh is at present anyway in the North of Ireland and the Republic have no jurisdiction. This however begs the question of whether the UK Security services have powers to shut down mobile phone transmissions in the UK and whether it is they that have requested the Irish authorities to seek this legislation to supplement the UK's security operations.

Whatever the reasons, if President Higgins sign the bill into law it will be another nail in the coffin of privacy and free speech.

Perhaps this is another investigation the HoC Intelligence and Security Committee could look into.

Monday, 10 June 2013

UPDATED: Trinity Mirror's Welsh dailies continue to slide

The relentless decline of Trinity Mirror's daily papers in Wales continues unabated. Worst hit was the group's lamentable Wales on Sunday, which now sells just 20,000 a week.
It's three daily papers now sell just 78,000 between them, with more and more copy being shared between them and their weekly counterparts within the group.
Western Mail 23,717  -3.3pc
North Wales Daily Post 28,235   -7.0pc
South Wales Echo  26,630  -11.6pc
Wales on Sunday  20,097  -12.0pc

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: The UK Press Gazette reports that the Western Mail has, in fact, increased its circulation by 3.3% to 23,717. Even so, it's hardly something to shout from the rooftops.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

A Very Closed and Secretive Watchdog.

I must say I am getting more concerned that public bodies in Wales are becoming less open, transparent and accountable and my concerns were borne out by the comments of Peter Tyndall the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales who was giving evidence to an Assembly Committee.
"Proposals which would allow the Public Services Ombudsman to bar complainants in highly sensitive cases from taking reports to the press have come under cross-party attack.
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said he had no power to stop complainants making confidential reports public even when there is a real danger the health of vulnerable people is at stake. 
In an Assembly committee session in April, Mr Tyndall’s legal adviser, Liz Thomas, said they sought powers to extend confidentiality clauses to complainants and third parties so that if someone “disobeys” the instruction, “the ombudsman has the powers to certify it as contempt of court, which exists in relation to, for example, someone who obstructs one of our investigations.” 
I really can't believe that Mr Tyndall is in all seriousness attempting to get powers to prevent complainants from doing what they want with Ombudsman's reports, surely if a report is about a complainant or someone the complainant is representing with their authority then the intellectual rights to that information is owned by the complainant.

I have previously written here of my concerns at how easy authorities can change the Ombudsman's mind regarding Section 16 Public Interest reports. Public authorities make confidential agreements on the way forward so that authority is not subject to the full glare of adverse publicity unless of course the complainant releases that report.

These proposals would make it harder still to get these reports into the public domain and Freedom of Information will be of no help because the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005 in itself is an Orwellian masterpiece, where ALL matters are confidential and the Ombudsman is basically exempt from FOIA which again is a ridiculous state of affairs for a so called 'watchdog.'

The whole rationale of having a watchdog is to drive improvements and there is no guarantee of improvements if cosy arrangements between public authorities and the Ombudsman are held behind closed doors.

There is only one way to drive public service improvements and that is to have an open, transparent and accountable watchdog.

Peter Tyndall's proposals should be rejected by all those who favour open government.


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Fiddling Figures.

It's only just been six months since we elected our first Police Commissioners and Gwent Police are the first  in Wales to see their Chief Constable, Carmel Napier retire following and alleged 'high profile clash' with the Commissioner Ian Johnston. The high profile clash seemed to be around allegations that Gwent Police were massaging crime figures ( well that comes as a surprise!) and Mr Johnston seemed to be unhappy at the practice and he told the South Wales Argus:
“Cops do as they are told because it is a disciplined organisation. Feedback from the public on their experience with cops is that there’s an emphasis on whether something is a crime or not rather than getting on and dealing with it and giving the public what they want. 
“We in Gwent are not alone, it’s national. People are obsessed with driving down crime and the level of recording crime but the public don’t believe the stats anyway. What they want is the proper service – reduce the problem and the stats will look after themselves.”
A very commendable position for Mr Johnston to take especially as he was previously Detective Chief Superintendent, Head of Criminal Investigation for Gwent Police and President of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales; and as I do, he will no doubt recall many controversies regarding the recording of crime in his 33 years as a Police officer.

Winston Roddick will do well to take a leaf out of his book and examine the extent of the problem in North Wales.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Silk Commission: Wrecsam gets lively

Paul Silk looked secretly quite pleased when things got a bit heated at the end of a lively session in Wrecsam's Catrin Finch Centre. At last, some passion in politics!

 He also admitted that the turnout - more than 60 - was the best of all so far for his commission's roadshow on the future of devolution in Wales.

 Admittedly, it got off to a sluggish start as three grey-suited men struggled with a dry Powerpoint presentation. It had "tick box" and "dull" written all over it. The remit was limited to a vision that "devolution of power to Wales should benefit Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom".

 Thankfully the audience weren't in the mood for ticking any boxes and that brought an immediate challenge - what if a power was devolved that benefitted Wales but not the UK as a whole?

We probed and challenged and questioned the entire process.

 There was an interesting mix of people - many were pro-independence and wanted the people of Wales to run their own affairs. Energy and water were topics that came up time and again, and there was also clear reasoned arguments for devolving police and criminal justice matters. A former probation worker was desperate to see the probation service devolved to avoid the privatising that England is facing.

 Others were sceptics, including a motley couple of ageing BNPers, one of whom was more interested in slagging off the local hospital for failing to diagnose his rare disease (I know, its begging for a punchline).

 There was also a strong sense among some that devolution hadn't delivered for the North. This perception conflates the Assembly with the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government is failing the North on a daily basis, for example with a centralising health agenda. That's not the fault of the institution but the politicians in Government. The answer is not, as Cllr Arfon Jones put it, to throw out the Assembly baby with the Labour bathwater but to replace it with a better government. That better government would represent the whole of Wales rather than the current Cardiff-centric setup.

 One disappointing aspect was the attempt by Trevor Jones, one of the commission members, to steer the debate in a direction of "we've had a bit of devolution, learn how to use those powers properly". The implication was a "lack of capacity", which is bureaucratese for "Wales can't run its own affairs". I've always found that a fascinating concept... that Wales, uniquely among the 208 independent states already in the world, could not function like others.

 So what did we learn from the exercise? Well, that even the supposedly devolved subjects like health and education are not fully devolved. Teachers' pay, for example, is still controlled by Westminster.

Oh, and we also learned that there is a rump of reactionary devo-sceptics lurking. The most vociferous sceptic in the crowd was one council employee who derided "nationalist tub-thumpers" who referred to control over Welsh water as living in the 19th Century. Despite his background in history, this slightly chippy character obviously hadn't heard of Tryweryn in the mid-20th Century.

The "tub-thumper" in question wasn't best pleased to hear his reasoned arguments that Wales could afford independence if it had control over its own assets so crudely challenged. He demanded, and got, an apology.