Monday, September 10, 2018

SERVING TWO MASTERS?


The bottom line is that we have an under-fire second rate secretary of state, who has consistently failed to stand up for Wales, let alone fight our corner, who is all out of ideas, who has launched an attack on a Party that has done little else but stand up for Wales since its creation. It is worth noting that since the current Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, took over the post, he has cancelled close to £2 billion worth of investment in infrastructure projects in Wales. As a direct result of these decisions (made in Westminster rather than here in Wales) local businesses, jobs and communities have lost out. Perhaps rather than attacking politicians who put forward solutions, the secretary of state should spend more of his time actually doing his job of developing the Welsh economy. This could go some way to explain why Wales has had to face the cancellation of the Tidal Lagoon and the electrification of the railways whilst he has been in post. Can a man or woman serve too masters well? Wales and Westminster or perhaps Wales and the Conservative Party?  -  the answer is simply no. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

WHOSE NATURAL RESOURCES?


A water company, Southern Water - which serves customers in south eastern England, has states that customer demand is estimated to be double its available supply by 2020. As a result of climate change, a reduction of the amount of water allowed to be taken from natural sources, and a rise in population demand would outstrip supply. The company's plan for 2020-2025 sets out how it will overcome the deficit  by reducing leakage by 15% and encourage customers to use less water.

This could be good news for Wales, if we had control of our own natural resources and could benefit from a fair price for our water. For amongst our rich resources is the literal stuff of life – water. Water is likely to become a valuable resource for the people of Wales in future years, and who owns, it who controls it, and who benefits is likely to remain one of the key issues, of potential dispute between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. While our country’s voice has been significantly strengthened since 1999, with various Wales related acts, as yet we still do not have the same degree of control of our natural resources as either Scotland or Northern Ireland. 

Not for nothing does the issue of water rightly still understandably raises strong emotions and stirs long memories here in Wales. Some six years ago Boris Johnson (then Mayor of London, lately, after May 2015 an MP, former feign secretary and now with other things on his mind) was wittering on about the need for a network of canals being needed to carry water from the wet North to the dry South (for the ‘wet North’  read ‘Wales).

Cofiwch Dryweryn
Boris's revolutionary thought, not to mention his poor grasp of geography, was not a new idea, back in 1973, what was then the Water Resources Board, a now defunct government agency, wrote a major report that advocated building a whole raft of infrastructure to aid the movement of water, not to mention constructing freshwater storage barrages in the Ouse, Wash and Morecambe Bay, using a network of canals to move water from north to south, extending reservoirs and building new aqueducts, not to mention constructing a series of tunnels to link up river basins to aid the movement of water.

Despite the demise of the Water Resources Board in 1974 (two years before the 1976 drought) and its replacement by regional water management bodies, which were privatised in the 1980’s this issue has never really gone away. In 2006, the Environment Agency produced a report entitled "Do we need large-scale water transfers for south-east England ?" which in a refreshingly honest answer to its own question at the time was an emphatic ‘no’.

That said, faced with a prolonged period of drought in the South East of England, DEFRA itself held a drought summit on the 20th of February of 2012. The then Con Dem Government stated that it remained committed to the remaining legislative measures set out in its Water for Life agenda , which later became the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act.

The plan for water in 1973
That is as they say history, but whatever Westminster eventually decides to do in relation to water resources, we in Wales still need to have full democratic control of our own resources. Our resources incidentally should include those parts of our country where Severn Trent Plc runs our natural resources for a fat profit.

This process can begin with repatriating control of the Crown Estates and transferring control of lands in (and off-shore) to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. For the life of me I can see no realistic reason why this feudal anachronism cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history.

We need a whole Wales strategy to develop and to conserve our water supplies and our planning regulations will need to be tweaked or rewritten accordingly. We need to take a long hard look at our water resources and what we get for them and how we can develop them.

I see absolutely no reason why the Welsh people cannot fully benefit from any future exploitation of Welsh resources, including our water. Most politically aware people would not have been particularly shocked to discover that coincidentally that the Government of Wales Act (2006) thanks largely to Peter (now Lord) Hain (amongst others) specifically excluded the Assembly from making any laws relating to water supply – hmm – odd that isn't it?

Now such duplicitous behaviour on the part of New or re-born Old Labour is not to be unexpected. The problem is that it does little to engender any trust or visible demonstration of an understanding of devolution or Wales, especially when the bearded one’s version of Labour starts talking about re-nationalising the Water industry.

Putting Tory and Labour spin and rhetoric aside, the bottom line is that all our water resources should belong to the Welsh people, not to Private corporations or to the UK Government. Any future draft Wales Bill should strengthen the powers that we in Wales have over our natural resources and associated planning processes and devolve control of those parts of the Severn Trent water franchise to Wales.

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