Saturday, August 18, 2018

LONDON 1 WALES 0


Plaid Cymru responding to figures obtained by the Wales Governance Centre has called the historic pooling of taxpayers’ money in London ‘scandalous’. The figures, based on statistics issued by the Office of National Statistics, show that government capital spending on transport in the UK is heavily concentrated in the south east of England. Had capital spending per head on transport in Wales matched spending per head in the wider south east of England, an extra £5.6 billion would have been invested since 1999.

Jonathan Edwards MP, the Plaid Cymru Westminster Group spokesperson for the Treasury said:

“The historic pooling of transport infrastructure expenditure in London is ‘scandalous’. This is a classic case of underfunding by the London-centric British Government and a chronic case of negligence by a dormant Labour Welsh Government since they took the reins twenty years ago. Had capital spending per head on transport in Wales matched spending per head in the wider south east of England, an extra £5.6 billion would have been invested since 1999. Transport infrastructure in Wales has been short-changed to the tune of billions. 

“At the moment the taxes of Welsh people are flowing to London and we are being offered crumbs back. When Tory and Labour politicians talk about pooling and sharing what they must mean is that Wales and other parts of the British State do the sharing and London does the pooling.

“To put £5.6 billion into context, the whole of the Welsh transport project pipeline, which includes the recently cancelled electrification of the Great Western Mainline, the South Wales Metro, the third Menai crossing, the Caernarfon – Bontnewydd bypass and tens of other vital pan-Wales projects, is worth £7.3 billion.

“These figures should be of huge concern as Brexit will mean an end to structural funds from the EU. The British State is grossly unequal and the concentration of transport infrastructure investment in London and the South East of England is one reason for this. The British State model is bust and there is little point looking to the Westminster parties for salvation.

“Imagine what we could have done since devolution to improve transport infrastructure in Wales with £5.6 billion. The Westminster parties will always look after London. Labour and the Tories are both as bad as each other.  There is no point looking to the British Government to invest in Wales, we need to have the full portfolio of job creation leavers in Wales to enable is to do the job ourselves.”
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Original statement from Guto Ifan, Research Fellow Wales Governance Centre found here:https://twitter.com/Guto_Ifan/status/1026417934518898688

Thursday, August 16, 2018

AUGUST DAYS IN 1968


Tuesday 22nd August 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia, an anniversary which may largely pass unnoticed save perhaps in Prague. Now that the Soviet Union is history, even with Russia on the rise in the east, people have plenty of other things to be concerned about.  It has been 50 years since Soviet troops and most but not all of their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21st 1968

The well-planned invasion crushed the political and economic reforms known as the Prague Spring, led by the country's then new First Secretary of the Communist party Alexander Dubcek. Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet hard-liners in Moscow, probably correctly in the light of later events between 1989 and 1991, at least from their narrow perspective, saw the reform movement as a serious threat to the Soviet Union's hold on the Socialist satellite states, they decided to act. 

In the first hours on the 21st August 1968 Soviet planes began to land unexpectedly at Prague's Ruzyne airport, and shortly Soviet tanks would roll through Prague's narrow streets. The Soviet-led invasion helped establish the Brezhnev Doctrine, which Moscow said allowed the U.S.S.R. to intervene in any country where a Communist government was under threat. 

The Soviet backed occupation of Czechoslovakia lasted until the velvet revolution brought an end to the Communist dictatorship in November 1991 as the Cold War ended. Even relatively recently Russia’s attitude to the invasion can still touch raw emotions, especially in the Czech and Slovak republics.

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.