Monday, July 30, 2018

OUR EVER THINNER BLUE LINE


Since September 2009 - which was the last set of figures before the Conservatives came into government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats - there's been a cut of 22,424 police officers at the same time the numbers of police community support officers (PCSOs), who patrol the streets, have been reduced by almost 40% since the Tories took office in 2010.  

The Scottish police force has been exempt from Tory cuts due to the fact that policing is devolved to Scotland. As a result Police officer numbers in Scotland has risen more or less continuously for the last 30 years while in Northern Ireland there has been a smaller decrease since 2010 than in England and Wales.


Back in 2016 the Westminster Government delayed the introduction of a new funding formula for forces in Wales and England after a “statistical error” was discovered. Once the new funding formula was introduced, Welsh police forces ended up some £32 million a year worse off. 

The danger is that those Con Dem and Conservative cuts could end up shaping and setting the policing agenda here in Wales for the next twenty years. We should also remember that when the choice of devolving Policing to Wales was tabled during the Wales Bill debate the Conservatives voted it down and the Labour Party abstained.

Fundamentally policing decisions in Wales need to reflect the needs and concerns of our communities, not the cost cutting agenda of the current Conservative Prime Minister (and previous Home Secretary) and the Ministry of Criminal Justice in London.

The devolution of policing would have meant that the Welsh police forces would have been exempt from the Tories’ planned £32 million cut to their budgets and could have benefitted by an additional £25 million through being funded through the Barnett formula - something that could have meant a total difference in Welsh police budgets of some £57 million.

At the end of the day, the Welsh people have a simple democratic right to have a greater say in something so fundamental to civilised community life as policing. This is already the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Manchester. Policing is only one side of the coin, to make devolved policing work, there is also a need to devolve control of criminal justice. 

Now is right time to devolve policing powers to the Welsh Government in Cardiff before our communities have to live with the consequences of any more cuts forced upon us post BREXIT . Devolving policing powers would increase the accountability of the Welsh Government; strengthen the democratic process by allowing decisions, which directly impact on the Welsh people to be made, reviewed, revised and changed here in Wales. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

MOVING NEWPORT’S POST OFFICE


The Post Office are planning to relocate its current branch from the Sovereign Arcade, Kingsway Centre, into a nearby vacant retail store in Upper Dock Street - thats not necessarily a problem, as its closer to the bus station and the parking.  However, a number of issues that should cause concern, the plan is for the relocated Post Office to be run by a retail partner, A S Stores Ltd, not the Post Office. 

The plan to extend opening hours to seven days a week is also a good idea. As is the suggestion that there should be seven serving positions, something that the Post Office planners have based on current and forecast future business levels; there will be four open plan positions and two more traditional screened positions which will also provide travel money services, as well as an open plan service point at the retail counter. Questions need to be asked about potential job loses amongst the highly professional well trained Post office staff who currently employed by Royal Mail. 

Additionally a respectable home needs to be found for the war memorial which is located in Newport Post Office and is dedicated to those of staff who worked for the organisation when it was the General Post Office (GPO), which is now Royal Mail. Any plans to relocate the memorial must ensure that members of the public may continue to pay their respects to those of post office staff who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

A public consultation is being held on the proposed move with a closing date of August 15, with the relocation taking place in October.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

TAKING BACK CONTROL


Plaid Cymru has responded to a report from the IPPR, which shows that Wales and the north east of England will be hit hardest by Brexit, as a result of price rises exposure to EU export market. Responding to the report, Plaid Cymru’s Brexit spokesperson in Westminster, Hywel Williams MP said:

“The real impact of the  Westminster parties’ needlessly hard Brexit is beginning to reveal itself across the UK and as this report shows – more so in Wales than the other UK countries.

“Families are already £900 a year poorer than they would have been had the referendum result gone the other way, and if we follow the policies of both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn and leave the Single Market and Customs Union, we will fall further significantly further behind as the cost of living soars.

“Just over a week ago one of Wales’s most important employers warned they would have to consider leaving Wales as a result of Tory and Labour Brexit policies, and since then the Tory Westminster Government has broken its promise to invest in the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. They are refusing to create jobs and boost wages in Wales while at the same time threatening the jobs that already exist.

“The key lesson for Wales is that we cannot continue to allow Westminster to make all our decisions on our behalf. We have to take control over our own future or families will continue to get poorer, and more and more businesses will need to look elsewhere.

“It’s time we took control over our own country.”

The full report, ‘An equal exit? The distributional consequences of leaving the EU’ is online  at: https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/an-equal-exit

Saturday, June 30, 2018

LOST OPPORTUNITIES


The sad demise (perhaps wilful destruction more like) of the former University of Newport, absorbed and asset stripped by the former University of Glamorgan, as a result of a combination of greed, stupidity, bad decisions and perhaps a failure on the part of the former management to really understand how politics in Wales works. The loss of the cities University has done many of the former (ex) employees and the City of Newport few favours. 

Newport's riverside City Campus
As noted elsewhere 10 years ago Newport was the home of a long-established student community which brought life, vibrancy and additional economic activity to Wales' third largest city. The controversial merger of the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales in 2013, has prompted some concern about the dwindling number of students undertaking degree courses in Newport. As noted by the Western Mail, once upon a time the University of South Wales published figures for the number of students in Newport but has now stopped and is currently rejecting Freedom of Information requests to release them. 

Despite the spin this was no merger, it was simply the removal of a smaller educational rival and a blatant barely concealed asset stripping exercise, driven admittedly by a desperately ambitious Vice Chancellor (although sitting in the House of Lords would admittedly not necessarily be the height of most people's ambitions). And what has happened since the merger has been a fairly consistent rundown of the provision of academic courses for students in Newport. Following the merger and rebrand, the creative industries courses once housed in the City Centre campus have been moved to the University of South Wales' Atrium campus in Cardiff.

In fairness to the former Management of the former University of Glamorgan, it can be said that they played a blinder, maximising the benefits of a close relationship with Leighton Andrews and Labour in Wales. Clearly all of those photo opportunities, the flattery, the dinners, the freebies, the lecturing gigs, the baubles and the trinkets, etc clearly paid off in the end. 

No wonder that heeded to use the government limousine so much, prior to his eventual and much deserved electoral demise. The same cannot be said for the former University of Newport which regularly expended significant sums feeding a rag tag bunch of Labour cronies (from various levels within the Labour machine) to little avail. 

Each year the catering departments financial surplus was pretty much eliminated ensuring that the troughs were full to feed the herd of Labourite’s who flocked into the University looking for free nosh. Sadly when in deep trouble and seeking help the best the University of Newport's leadership got was the sound of silence from a wide range of local Labour members at various levels from Newport City Council, the National Assembly and Westminster. 
Protests about the closure of Caerleon Campus
So much for cultivating 'political influence' of the local good and the great - when it came to the crunch loyalty to the Labour machine counted more than any desire the save a significant local employer (600+ jobs) in Newport (and across the former county if Gwent) and a financial contributor to the local / regional economy (to the tune of £120 million a year). The failure of the South Wales Argus to stand behind Newport University was understandable, especially in light of who was footed onto USW's board of governors. The newspaper did little to highlight the Universities demise and that impact on the city in general after the fact. 

To be fair there were failures on the part of the University of Newport's management as well  the failure to find collaborative partners (something) that might have kept the predatory UniGlam at bay - firstly with Colleg Gwent and then with Cardiff Metropolitan University (which has successfully  survived as an independent educational institution) in the long term probably proved decisive. A new larger institution based on a proper balanced partnership would probably have been difficult to absorb and destroy even with the support of the then Labour education minister. This failure combined with a failure to gain and make good of a basic understanding of the local political setup and how it worked also turned out to be if some importance.

The University like other semi public bodies locally (and nationally) the embryonic UWCN / UWN had plenty of well publicised ambitions - it ran a whole series of excellent courses ranging from archaeology to photography and teacher education (which along with photography and design the institution excelled at). Certainly the deliberate destruction of the Ancient History and Archaeology section of the Humanities Department which was a particularly dull ill thought out decision (especially considering the archaeological and historical significance the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon) along with the deliberate rundown of electronic and electrical engineering courses and the failure to develop a comprehensive self sustaining portfolio of part-time business focused courses  - like Cardiff Metropolitan University successfully did -  but help matters. 

Like many other semi public bodies (including housing associations) the hierarchies salaries grew - former managers now became directors and then employed managers to do the jobs that they had done previously. At Newport student numbers never grew enough to match the increasingly top heavy well salaried (at least at the top) management slanted bureaucracy. The periodic restructuring and reordering of the institutions internal and public facing departmental structures was to regular an occurrence to stabilise the institution in an increasingly competitive educational market within and without Wales. It also not do much for staff morale or help with the institutions profile in the University sector league tables. 

Prior to the end, so my sources told me the good  ship UWN was not actually in particularly good shape - by the time the merger happened the institution may have come within two or three months of actually being unable to pay the staff. Additionally the poor if not frosty and bad tempered relationship between the UWN hierarchy and Leighton Andrews, the then Labour in Wales Education minister, was deteriorating. Opportunities to take reasonable and modest steps towards survival were missed. 

In the end absorption into a greater UniGlam - rebadged for PR purposes as USW, despite warnings handed out to the management proved to be a veritable blood bath for former UWN staff - who were quietly and systematically encouraged to leave. Caerleon campus was flogged off (for housing) for the ready cash, the portfolio of courses hosted at the riverside campus had been systematically reduced. Most students now reside in Cardiff / Pontypridd and their environs - something that wrecked the buy to key housing sector in Newport. That perhaps is a matter for the medium to longer term. 

The former county of Gwent now lacks a higher educational institution to call its own, a process aided and abetted by the National Assembly who changed the definition of Wales's spacial geography to lump Gwent into a bigger south east Wales which meant that were previously there had been one HE institution there were now 3. This introduced a significant element of vulnerability to the equation, and failures to secure balanced partnerships and strong collaborative relationships with similarly sized HE institutions - perhaps more often dashed upon the rocks of senior management ego's undermined Newport University's position. 

Nearly 100 years of hard constructive work to build educational institutions which delivered quality courses to students was destroyed by the so called merger. If USW has no real interest in running a University campus in  Newport then perhaps from a Gwent focussed Higher and Further education perspective if Colleg Gwent can acquire the riverside campus (from USW) we can start the process again and build an institution that can deliver for the former county of Gwent. 

Politically the abject failure of 'the local Labour elected' to speak out and to help our former University survive in its hour of deep need speaks volumes for the reality of the way the Party formerly know as New Labour in Wales operates - putting party interests well ahead of the interests of the community they claim the represent. This is something that should be seriously be remembered before people locally think about casting their votes for them at future polls.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A TIDAL LETDOWN


Westminster’s decision to reject the Swansea Bay Tidal lagoon (and the broken promise over electrification of the min line to Swansea from Cardiff amongst others) is to say the least disappointing. That said it is simply a very visible symptom of the Westminster Parliament and most Westminster parliamentarians (with a few honourable exceptions) lack of any real concern for Wales and our national interests. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves for once, Westminster is quite simply not interested in making Wales thrive, or allowing Wales to become a world-beater in the development of renewable energy technologies and to generate the technologies and jobs that go with it. As I have said previously I have long believed that Westminster government’s regardless of their political hue, before and after devolution, and before and no doubt after BREXIT, remains fundamentally indifferent to our needs, our aspirations and our national interests.  

Nothing to see here - move alone! 

It is worth remembering that every single party represented in the National Assembly backed the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and yet, Westminster has told us it’s not going to happen. In the 1980’s and 1990’s decisions made in Westminster, were largely made by Governments that the people of Wales did not vote for or endorse yet were imposed on our country. Now, even with devolution, things should be different, yet now decisions made by our embryonic national parliament can be so easily wilfully overruled by a Westminster government over the border, for whom the people of Wales did not vote for.

Our coastline and our maritime and energy resources will remain a largely untapped resource for the foreseeable future. The prototype tidal lagoon would have been a first step towards making Wales a world leader in a new and innovative technology with the potential to power our future. Not to mention the potential to create renewable and sustainable non nuclear energy supply that would not be deponent on imported oil and gas from the unstable Middle East and the Persian gulf. 

Westminster is consistently refusing to invest to create well-paid jobs in Wales, while at the same time threatening the ones which already exist, through its irresponsible stance on Brexit. The decision to pull the plug on the Tidal lagoon is a perfect demonstration of why Wales needs to gain greater control over its own future. We can no longer not afford the luxury of Westminster continuing to hold back our country’s potential for developing sustainable energy sector and the related skills that could make our country a world leader. 

The years of foot-dragging over the fate of the Swansea Tidal lagoon should not have been unexpected, particularly from a Westminster system that remains hooked on expensive subsidies to foreign owned and foreign constructed Nuclear power stations. One reason for this is that it is perhaps easier for former energy minsters to get better paid jobs post their involvement in politics, with subsidy rich energy companies.

Interest in developing Tidal lagoons is not new; the concept has been floated around in Wales since the late 1990’s. It is worth remembering that Labour were in power from 1997 until 2010 and did nothing. The problem was that successive private companies when faced with sluggish perhaps finely calculated indifference from both government (at all levels) and the civil service have moved on or lost interest. 

Post BREXIT Wales needs the Tidal lagoons more than ever, if Westminster is serious about reducing the UK’s dependence on imported energy supplies from unstable regions, run by brutal repressive regimes – then developing Tidal lagoons could be a step towards real energy independence. So rather than watching the Westminster politicians marshal their lame tired old excuses as to why they cold not or would not buy in to the project, we need to devolve the powers related to energy generation from Westminster to Wales.

The full devolution of powers relating to energy resource development to Wales and also a Welsh government that is not sleeping walking on the job are an absolute necessity. Post BREXIT we need to step away from our low wage culture and to develop a much more economically dynamic and sustainable Welsh economy.  We are not going to get anything done with a Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay that’s too busy looking after its own personal and party political interests rather than our national interests.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

MAKING A CASE FOR INDEPENDENCE


It can be argued that at one level Westminster’s consistent disregard for our nation, our people, our democracy and our national interests is day by day, blow by blow, making the case for independence. Not for nothing did a Plaid Cymru MP recently describe the 18 minutes allocated to debate matters relating to Wales, Scotland and northern Ireland during the recent debate about the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. 

When the Conservatives and the Labour Party openly and actively working to silence our nation’s voice, and simply treating our country as an irrelevance, an afterthought and an inconvenience it does not bode well for our future in a post BREXIT world.

The debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as it relates to the devolved countries was cut short to just 18 minutes last week, following a restrictive programme motion, proposed by the Conservatives and following the insistence of the Labour Party to push 11 amendments to a vote, and thus eating into the time allocated for the debate on the devolved countries, so much for looking after our interests.

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP said:

“Westminster’s disregard for Welsh democracy is endemic. The people of Wales would be forgiven for thinking the Labour opposition and the Tory government are colluding to deny Wales a voice.

“Not only did the Conservative Government succeed last week in placing a restrictive programme motion on the debate, the Labour Party also ensured the debate would be as short as possible by needlessly pressing ahead with 11 consecutive votes, knowing full well that they would lose – all the while eating into time for the debate on the devolved countries.

“When Plaid Cymru argued in favour of staying in the EU, we did so because we believed that small nations like Wales were better served sitting alongside the other successful small nations of Europe, as equals. We argued that the inbuilt inequality of the UK would make Wales expendable political collateral to the over-riding interests of England. And we were right.

“Brexit will be a landmark in the journey Wales takes to our own conclusion that only our own, radical solutions will prove the answer to our needs. Westminster and its parties will always treat Wales like an adjunct, an afterthought, an inconvenience. All this does is make the case for Welsh political independence.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

AN UNOBSERVED ANNIVERSARY

For a state so allegedly if somewhat selectively obsessed with its rich history it is the things that are forgotten that occasionally still have the power to surprise us. I was talking a few years ago to a family friend, who had served in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War, he was shocked to discover that the Poles were excluded from the 1946 Allied victory parade in 1946.

The 4th June 2018 was the 72nd anniversary of the great victory parade, which was held in London to commemorate the victory over fascism. It was held on June 4th 1946 by the then Labour Government, who staged an elaborate victory parade in London. 

Representatives from over 30 Allied nations gathered to celebrate the Allies collective victory over fascism. Some 134 different nationalities actually took part in the victory parade:  Czechs, Dutch, Iranian, Sikh, Norwegian, Canadian, South African, Arab, Belgians and Australians and many others marched (or flew over) through the streets of London. 

Absent were the Poles, who in probably one of the most despicable (even with the benefit of hindsight) gutless acts of any Westminster government, were excluded due to pressure from Stalin. The Poles, who had given so much for allied victory in almost every campaign and had done the ground work which broke the enigma codes, were perceived as a problem post war.  

Attlee's government had previously pressured the Poles to return to Soviet occupied Poland, before reluctantly granting them asylum. They were specifically and perhaps deliberately excluded - perhaps due to a combination for pressure from and a fear of offending Stalin. 

To their credit, the RAF, had consistently refused to harass the Poles to return to Soviet dominated Poland from the start, and they gave the Polish airman who had fought so valiantly in the Battle of Britain in 1940 the option to fly but they chose not to fly in the aerial victory parade in an act of solidarity with their excluded comrades on the ground.