Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Make St David's Day a national holiday

Amser i wneud Dydd Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus

Mae Plaid Cymru wedi lansio deiseb yn galw am wneud diwrnod Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus.

Mae 15 mlynedd wedi mynd heibio bellach ers i Aelodau Cynulliad bleidleisio o blaid gwneud Mawrth y 1af yn wyliau cyhoeddus a naw mlynedd ers i arolwg barn ddarganfod bod 87% o bobl Cymru yn cefnogi’r syniad, ond does dim wedi digwydd ers hynny.

Roedd sôn y byddai’r pŵer dros wyliau yn cael ei ddatganoli nôl yn 2014 ond fe gafodd hyn ei atal gan yr Ysgrifennydd Cymru ar y pryd.

Mae Plaid Cymru yn credu bod rhaid i’r pŵer gael ei ddatganoli cyn gynted â phosib er mwyn i’r Cynulliad gael gwneud penderfyniad ar y mater erbyn 2016.

Dywedodd llefarydd Plaid Cymru ar ddiwylliant, Bethan Jenkins:

“Mi fyddai gwneud Dydd Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus yn cyd-fynd gydag ewyllys pobl Cymru ac yn rhoi hwb i’r sector dwristiaeth.

“Rydw i’n galw ar bawb sy’n cytuno â ni ar y mater hwn i arwyddo ein deiseb er mwyn gyrru neges i San Steffan mai penderfyniad i bobl Cymru ddylai hwn fod.”


Time to make St David's Day a public holiday

The Party of Wales has launched a petition calling for St David’s Day to be made a national holiday.

Some 15 years have passed since Assembly Members voted in favour of establishing a public holiday on March 1, and nine years since an opinion poll showed that 87% of Welsh people supported the idea, but nothing has happened since.

There was talk of devolving the power over public holidays back in 2014 but this was blocked by the Secretary of State for Wales at the time.

Plaid Cymru believes that the power should be devolved as soon as possible so that the Assembly can make a decision on the matter in time for 2016.

The Party of Wales’s culture spokesperson Bethan Jenkins said:

“Making St David’s Day a national Holiday would reflect the wishes of the Welsh people and would bring benefits to the tourism sector in Wales.

“I call on everyone who agrees with us on this matter to sign our petition in order to send a message to Westminster that this should be a decision for the Welsh people to take.”

Monday, 23 February 2015

Wrexham Council's Flawed Budget Consultation.

Back in October and November 2014, Wrexham Council 'consulted' on their budget proposals and as a consequence decided to drop a couple of their more controversial savings proposals (having obviously learnt some lessons from last year's Plas Madoc Leisure Centre fiasco).

This is what they've said in their budget report for Wednesday's Full Council meeting about the consultation:
Given the 942 responses to the survey, statistically this provides a 96 to 97% confidence level in these results. Generally, 95% is taken to be acceptable in most social research. Sometimes such research even uses a confidence level as low as 90%. This confidence level is how sure we can be that our results would be true if we asked another 942 people the same question. The margin of error/confidence interval with this number of people is 3% or 4% of the answers received. A 3.5% margin is statistically very good as most research would use a 5% confidence interval. 5.3 In summary, we do need to be clear that the number of responses received in this consultation surpassed what is normally used as good practice ie 95% confidence level and 5% confidence interval and therefore we can be confident in the results of the exercise.  
The consultation findings are detailed ... In summary the proposals receiving the highest levels of agreement overall were Council Tax Electronic Billing (91%agreed, 5% disagreed), Mayoral Service (87% agreed, 7% disagreed), Online processing (85% agreed, 9% disagreed), Tourist Information Centre (83% agreed, 11% disagreed), Learning Disability Service (82% agreed, 11% disagreed) and Shopmobility to Third Sector (81% agreed, 13% disagreed). The proposals receiving the lowest levels of agreement overall were Highways Planned Maintenance (24% agreed, 70% disagreed), Council Tax Rise (37% agreed, 58% disagreed), Car Parking Charges at Country Parks (43% agreed, 52% disagreed), Family Friends Contract (44% agreed, 43% disagreed), Supporting People (53% agreed, 34% disagreed) and Redesign Tapley Avenue (58% agreed, 30% disagreed)
This is a pretty good attempt at baffling the reader with science but confidence levels can only apply if the survey sample has been 'weighted' for various characteristics and demography which this survey hasn't so the results are pretty meaningless and poor justification for making such important life impacting decisions on.

Let me elaborate on what I mean, 91% of respondents were in agreement with moving to electronic billing of council tax...unsurprising when 922 of the 942 respondents to the survey completed it electronically and it makes one wonder whether the 20 who completed the paper survey were the 5% who disagreed with electronic billing?

Another example was where a high number of respondents opposed car park charges at Country Parks and changes to planned Highways maintenance. I don't think we need to be statisticians to guess that ALL who disagreed here are probably car owners, what is significant here is the 43% who agreed with car parking charges of whom many would also be car owners.

Let's now look at cuts which are demographically located like Caia Park Early Years where 70% of respondents agreed with cut and 20% disagreed. Why would respondents who live in Glyn Ceiriog or Chirk oppose a cut in an area miles away from them. If the cut doesn't affect you why should you disagree with it?

The same argument applies to another demography, that of people who desire a Welsh Medium Education. A cut of £23,000 to Mudiad Meithrin who support Welsh Nursery provision was supported by 70% and opposed by 20%. Again,why would respondents disagree with a cut to funding that doesn't affect them?

If you do a survey it must be done right!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Local Authority Service Performance 2013/14.

The Welsh Government has recently produced its Annual Local Authority Service Performance Report for 2013/14. Nineteen service performance areas are measured/assessed and colour coded with red for the bottom quartile of the 22 Welsh Local Authorities, Amber for the middle 50% and Green for the top quartile.

This report makes interesting reading especially if you are comparing the likes of Flintshire and Wrexham who are likely partners in a future amalgamation. The difference frankly could hardly be starker; Wrexham have 8 Performance areas in the red, 8 in amber and only 3 in green. In Flintshire there are only 2 in the red, 11 in amber and 6 in the green.

The only area in Wrexham which seems to excel is within housing with provision of affordable housing being an achievement.

The areas where Wrexham are in the red are:

  1. Looked after children being in education, employment or training. (22)
  2. Looked after children who have had more than 3 placements. (21)
  3. Pupils achieving Level 2 KS 4 (18)... contrast this with Flintshire where they are third.
  4. Free public swims for under 18's and over 60's (17)
  5. Roads in poor condition (21)
  6. Feeling safe in local area after dark (19)
  7. Adults physically active on 5 or more days in a week (18)
  8. Adults drinking above guidelines (17)
Whilst I don't consider league tables based on averages to be particularly meaningful, after all someone must come top and someone must come bottom, and it doesn't show where there has been improvements but where there have been greater improvements in other authorities, there must however be some investigation into the underlying data.

What would be interesting would be a comparison of the underlying data for all 19 areas for both Flintshire and Wrexham which would be a baseline as to how an amalgamated authority could be expected to perform.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Exploratory Drilling at Borras Head Farm, Borras, Wrecsam.

It's taken me a few days to get a good understanding of what exactly the Fracking Moratorium statement made jointly by Carl Sargeant and Owen Smith on the eve of the Welsh Labour Party conference really means but it looks very much what it says on the tin...The Town and Country Planning (Notification)(Unconventional Oil and Gas) (Wales) Direction 2015, actually instructs Local Planning Authorities to refer ALL planning applications for Unconventional Gas drilling to Welsh Ministers but only if they are inclined to pass the application and this is where the first anomaly comes in. The Direction makes no reference at all to the Planning Inspectorate which after all is constitutionally an agency of the Westminster Government. In the event therefore that the LPA are inclined to refuse an application there is no requirement to refer the application to the Minister but will the applicant still be able to appeal against refusal to the Planning Inspectorate and will the Direction apply to them because it is not implied in the Direction that it does.

It is striking how far the Welsh Government have moved on this issue since July 2014, when Carl Sargeant issued this uncompromising 'clarification letter' stating in conclusion that:
The guidance provided in MPPW, (Mineral Planning Policy Wales) in conjunction with this clarification letter, should be taken into account by local planning authorities in Wales when making decisions on applications for unconventional oil and gas proposals. 

There is no doubt that the sustained lobbying of the Welsh Government by many groups and individuals has had a significant effect on Ministers which was then helped along by Plaid Cymru's motion the week before this announcement and support from the government's own members for such motion. This was in striking contrast to the Labour abstentions in the moratorium amendment on the Infrastructure Bill.

The question now is, what will be the response of the industry to this 'moratorium'? UKOOG, the industry trade body were quick enough to issue a Press Release after the Scottish moratorium decision but have yet to comment on the Welsh decision; is this a good or bad sign, only time will tell.

Personally, I have some nagging doubts about how this will pan out; now from this direction it seems the Welsh Government have the planning side all covered but there is of course another angle and that is the Energy sector.

The Energy Sector in Wales is not devolved, so does that mean that Westminster or Cardiff takes precedence here or will UKOOG appeal this to the Supreme Court? It seems a possible scenario.

One will have also noted that the Direction does not say whether it applies to 'Onshore' or 'Offshore' exploration. This anomaly has already been identified by the Scottish Government in that they don't have the power to regulate offshore which could include UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). This could be a significant problem in North East Wales as Cluff Energy seeks licences for UCG for the Dee Estuary between Deeside and West Kirkby on the Wirral (which incidentally covers the wildlife and bird sanctuary on Hilbre Island). This undoubtedly will remain with the UK Government as offshore is the Crown Estates but is yet another anomaly.

For us in Wrecsam the next decision is in IGas's lap, do they proceed with their exploratory drilling at Borras Head, knowing full well that their application for extraction of gas/oil (at this moment in time) will not be allowed or do they just pull the plug on the whole project (or is that just wishful thinking on my part?)

Whatever happens, we need to continue to be alert, this is not the time to be complacent.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Kate announces charity event to raise awareness about Invisible Illnesses

Wrexham campaigner Kate Langwine-Cooke who launched a campaign to raise awareness about invisible illnesses after being subjected to verbal abuse for parking in a disabled bay at a supermarket, has announced her first fundraising event.

Kate 29 who suffers from multiple sclerosis has organised the event at Saith Seren on Chester Street for Friday 20th February, to raise awareness and to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and MS Research. The event which is free to attend and starts at 7.30pm is being supported with live performances from local entertainers Sam Jones, The Maydays, Luke Gallagher and The Holy Rollers.

Following the verbal abuse Kate received, she posted a video of the incident online which has now been seen by over 30,000 people, with many getting in touch via her ‘Invisible Illnesses’ Facebook page to say they have experienced similar problems.

Kate said: “This will be the first of many events I’m hoping to organise to raise awareness about this issue. Not everyone with a disability is in a wheelchair, and I want people to think twice before they make a judgement.”

“I’ve been amazed at the level of support for the event from local singers and bands and also local people and businesses who have donated raffle prizes. I hope lots of people will come along to support it.”
Plaid Cymru Cllr Carrie Harper is also supporting both the event and the campaign. She added: “ Kate is passionate about this issue and it’s great to see the amount of support she’s had for the event so far, I’m sure it will be a huge success.”

“We’re working together to see what we can do in a practical way to raise awareness about Invisible Illnesses locally. So far we’ve written to Wrexham council to ask if they would be willing to display Kate’s Invisible Illnesses posters at council run car parks across the town centre. With notice boards already in place, we hope this will be an easy way for the council to help get the message out there and to support the work Kate is doing.“

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Plaid’s calls for a fracking moratorium gather support

Tomorrow the National Assembly will debate a motion by Plaid Cymru in support of a moratorium on fracking in Wales. The pressure on AMs of other parties from grassroots campaigners is vital to getting this motion supported so it increases the pressure to stop fracking. 

'Protecting our communities is our number one concern'

Plaid Cymru has challenged the Welsh Government to make clear its views on fracking in Wales.
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Sustainable Communities, Energy and Food, has called on the Labour Government in Cardiff to confirm its views on fracking amidst a growing consensus in favour of a moratorium.
The AM for North Wales said that protecting communities was Plaid Cymru’s number one concern which is why the party has called for a moratorium on the controversial practice of drilling for shale gas and Coal Bed Methane.
The Labour Government has refused to confirm whether it will ban fracking if the powers are devolved to Wales, and has failed to make any representations to the UK Government on the matter. Meanwhile the Scottish Government has gained power over fracking and has introduced a moratorium.
Plaid Cymru has also called for clarity on the Welsh Government’s existing powers, calling for the government’s legal advice on the use of current planning powers to stop fracking to be published. 
Llyr Gruffydd said:
“Plaid Cymru is calling for a moratorium on fracking because of the danger it poses to the environment, water and health. Investing in another form of carbon-intensive energy would make a mockery of our domestic and international obligations on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. We should be pursuing alternative sources of energy, for the safety of our communities.“There is a growing consensus that agrees with Plaid Cymru, and last week the Scottish Government was granted the power to introduce a moratorium on fracking. However the Labour Government in Wales has failed to make any representations to the UK Government on the matter, and has refused to tell us if it will introduce a similar moratorium if the powers are devolved to Wales.“The Labour Government has been extremely contradictory on this matter and now is the time for some clarity. Despite claiming to want parity of powers with Scotland for Wales, the Labour party has amended the UK Government’s Infrastructure Bill to give Scotland powers over fracking but failed to do the same for Wales.“The people of Wales want to know if the Welsh Government will show the same strong lead as the Scottish Government and stop fracking in Wales.”

"If we keep on cutting, what services will be left in five years?"

Austerity has become a commonly used word in politics today, so what does ‘austerity’ mean? The Oxford dictionary defines austerity as,
‘difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure’.
But, what does it mean to the parents who are losing nursery or library services, or consultant-led services in their local hospital? Or to the older people who used to mitigate their loneliness by going to the local day centre that has now shut, or to one of the 40,000 people who were forced to use a food bank in the past six months? Austerity, for so many people, has meant hardship. It has meant pain, and there is a lot more of it to come.
The week before last, Members of Parliament from each of the three parties represented on the other side of this Chamber voted to sign up to Westminster’s austerity charter. That charter commits to at least £30 billion of additional cuts. It’s explicit about targeting those cuts at those with the least. Plaid Cymru voted against that charter because we simply cannot see how there can be more cuts to public services, more attacks on people’s costs and standards of living.
Many of the people I speak to are deeply concerned about what more cuts will mean. What services or safety net will we have left after five more years of this? So, why have people, and our public safety net, had to take such a hit?
First of all, it’s worth reiterating the point that Plaid Cymru has been making since the banks crashed in 2008: people bailed out the banks, and now the people themselves are paying the price for the bankers’ mistakes. 
We must remember who is responsible for this crash. We know that it was not caused by the parents of small children now without nursery provision, or those unable to make ends meet because the minimum wage is too low. It was not caused by those children who can no longer have music or swimming lessons, or who no longer have a youth club, or playing facilities, or a local library, or those using food banks; while those who are largely responsible for the crash have been able to largely carry on untouched, continuing to reap big bonuses.
It’s pretty obvious, from the point of fairness, who should be paying more. It’s those who are instead being allowed by Government to avoid or evade paying a fair share of tax; those who are responsible for the UK being the only G7 country where the gap between richest and poorest is actually widening. So, has this austerity been worth all the pain? Has it achieved what it set out to achieve? The answer to those questions is ‘no’.
In 2010, the Chancellor had two principal goals: eliminating the deficit by 2015, and maintaining the UK’s AAA credit rating. We’re only approximately halfway to eliminating the deficit. Despite years of hurt and swingeing cuts, the UK’s deficit is already over £86 billion for this financial year so far. The UK’s debt is £1.4 trillion and it is growing. The coveted AAA credit rating has been downgraded by one agency. According to Credit Suisse, wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. This supports the case put forward by French economist, Thomas Piketty: the richest are getting richer quicker than ever before.
We should all be alarmed when the International Monetary Fund, of all people, are warning of the dangers of further austerity. It’s worth noting, too, that the austerity plans of Tories and Labour differ only slightly, with Labour committed to further deep cuts in public expenditure, just as they had planned the 40% cuts to capital projects in their budget of March 2010.
And it’s not just here: the politics of austerity has dominated the thinking of European politics for some time. It’s been presented to us as the only option. We are told, just as Mrs Thatcher told us, that there is no alternative. Those of us who are proposing an alternative approach are told that we are fantasists. I’m sure that the people of Greece don’t see an anti-austerity approach as fantasy, and the result of the Greek elections means that now the whole of Europe must consider whether bailing out the financial system at the expense of jobs, public services and communities is really in the interests of our citizens.
Plaid Cymru does not accept that there is any inevitability about our poverty. In the same vein, we do not accept that austerity is inevitable, either. We have hope and we know that a different way is possible. So, what does Plaid Cymru’s alternative to the damaging ideology of austerity look like? Firstly, redistribution. We want to place a legal duty on the Government for macroeconomic policy to be geared towards an equalising and levelling up of wealth per head, which would make for a much fairer economy in terms of prosperity and opportunity. Other measures that would follow on from this legal duty include a UK convergence fund, like there is in the European Union, where under-performing areas are supported. Industrial policy to sector-rebalance the economy away from financial services and towards manufacturing and advanced engineering. A system whereby areas with the lowest gross value added are prioritised for infrastructure spending and investment. We want the minimum wage to rise to the living wage, because a day’s work should pay a fair wage. There’s a principle to uphold here: no-one should work full time and not earn enough to live on—no-one.
 Plaid Cymru believes that the public sector can be a force for good, and we reject this false contest between the private and the public sector. If rail services can provide improved services and better value for money in public hands, then so be it. If we want energy prices kept down all the time, not just after elections, then let’s break the big six monopoly with a public company.
Austerity and unfettered market economics is a choice, and where savings are made in public spending is a matter of choice, too. Plaid Cymru wants to end the £120 billion a year tax evasion and avoidance. Other parties would rather take billions out of social protection. While our own First Minister has engaged in an unedifying haggling process to get Scotland’s rejected nuclear weapons relocated to Wales, Plaid Cymru wants to cancel the renewal of Trident weapons of mass destruction, saving £100 billion. Other parties here would rather freeze child benefit and exacerbate child poverty; Plaid Cymru wants to end tax relief for millionaire pensioners, saving £15 billion a year. Some parties would rather break up and sell off our NHS. Plaid Cymru wants to invest in it to make sure it’s fit for now and for the future.
Hand in hand with the choice as to whether or not London-based parties back austerity is whether or not they also back home rule for Wales. 
We can decide for ourselves if we want to follow a different course to Westminster’s race to the bottom. By demanding and securing parity of powers and parity of resources for our country by gaining home rule, we can not only build the country our people want to see but also put in place the building blocks for the society that we want to create. Parity for resources means that Wales gets the same spending per head as Scotland, and why should we not? This would give us an additional £1.2 billion a year to invest in our country and in our communities. We’re not asking for more than the going rate, but we should not be prepared to settle for anything less either.
Wales’s needs are evident and Wales’s disproportionate suffering at the hands of welfare reform, as demonstrated by the Wales Audit Office, has been made clear.
I’ll finish by saying this to the parties opposite: once you’ve made your choice on austerity and on home rule, I very much hope that you will have the courage to look the people of Wales in the eyes and justify your decision.
 It is duplicitous and hypocritical to make grand statements condemning the consequences of austerity in this Chamber and in your communities, only to then support your counterparts scurrying through the lobbies at Westminster to vote for more austerity and for more cuts and for more pain.
As the leader of the Party of Wales, I can tell people in Wales today this without any hesitation: these are the values that guide us in Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru stands for investment, and not cuts. Plaid Cymru stands for the rebalancing of power and wealth, not austerity. Plaid Cymru stands for home rule, not London rule. And we want you to stand with us for these values and for Wales.