Wednesday, March 28, 2018


It's still our water...

Water is one aspect of our nation's wealth of natural resources that our people are unable to benefit from its use due to the UK Government holding the power of veto over all matters relating to Welsh water. Control over our water needs to be transferred from Westminster to the National Assembly, so any wealth generated from its extraction, exploitation and export benefits our nation. Whether we are talking about energy, water or devolving Air Passenger Duty to Wales, the First Minister appears to continue to say one thing in Cardiff while Labour’s London based MPs say something different. Back in 2013, in their evidence to the Silk Commission, the Labour in Wales Welsh Government said it wanted to see the National Assembly gain full control over all matters relating to Welsh water. Yet in the final stages debate on the Water Bill in January 2014, on Plaid Cymru's amendment, every single Labour MP from Wales failed to turn up. Labour, in Westminster or Wales, is only interested in conforming to the cosy Westminster consensus instead of putting the interests of the Welsh economy and people first. That was then, 4 years or so down the line and little appears to have changed and our national interests will always come second to party political and personal interests for those parties who's primary focus is on Westminster rather than Wales. 

Monday, March 26, 2018


There was a time when most Government’s (regardless of political hue) would at least pander to the idea of taking a longer more thought out view when it comes to economic development. They would at least try to provide the best conditions and framework to enable the private sector to grow and flourish. Sadly with a few exceptions this attitude appears to have quietly died (sometime in the 1980’s) as politicians concentrated on short term popularity and tax breaks and getting their noses back into the trough after each election.

Working public money hard?

Much has rightly been made, from time to time,  about the state of our High Streets, the economic consequences of their imminent demise and the pressing need to do something about it. Politicians (from the usual suspects) have periodically rolled out the usual cliches about redevelopment and regeneration and then after having paid some lip service to the idea of reviving our high streets carry with business as usual. 

This is not cynicism on my part merely a result of some thirty five years of observation on what has happened to my home town (Newport) and to the small towns of Monmouthshire and much of the Gwent valleys. We have all seen far too much talk over the years and scant action on the part of local politicians and the inhabitants of the Westminster village. 

There are two key elements (amongst others) when it comes to creating economic circumstances which will favour the growth and development of small to medium sized local businesses and enterprises. Firstly there is a need to give local high street based businesses a fair and level playing field upon which to operate and secondly there is a need to give the public relatively easy and cheap (If not free) access to the high street. 

More locally when it comes to development (or redevelopment for that matter) our Local Authorities need to develop a realistic and sensible long term economic view when it comes to planning policies and regeneration. Planning polices need to favour local businesses and small to medium sized enterprises – there needs to be a more thought out and more consistent approach to dealing with planning applications for in, out and edge of town retail developments. 

Our Local Authorities are still far too often tempted by planning gain as developers offer includes, sweeteners and inducements to ease the passage of proposed developments. Council's fear the costs of planning applications (particularly those from larger retailers) being taken to appeal if original outline planning permission is refused. They may even be advised by Council officers of these potential costs if a development proposal involving a larger (potentially more aggressive) retail company goes to appeal - so much for local democracy!

Local Authorities also often fail to have properly researched retailing policies within their development plans. If retailing needs have not been assessed properly then it is very difficult for Local Authority planners to refuse any potentially damaging planning applications from developers, which results in local small businesses, consumers and our communities paying the price. 

Since the 1980’s every Westminster Government has talked about promoting the vitality and viability of our larger and smaller  towns, or at least paid a form of lip service to it. Over the last thirty years or so many retail developments have consistently undermined this aim, as local authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to the consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments on the edge of market towns in England and Wales. The economic reality has fallen well short of the verbal aspiration, a quick look at the damage that has been done to Newport, Pontypool, Abergavenny, Chepstow and elsewhere in Wales.

Let’s at least be honest, how can we expect local regeneration schemes to work, when the once thriving commercial heart of our high streets has already been seriously damaged by an inability to compete with the aggressive tactics of supermarkets and larger retail chains chasing an ever larger market share. More than ever, our planners need to think about the long term economic consequences of planning decisions, to take the longer term view, rather than get fixated on short term financial gains and questionable inducements from developers.

If you live in various parts of Gwent or are intimately familiar with your home community, then over the years you will have noticed that redevelopment / regeneration comes and goes in phases, in any particular community or town regeneration schemes will have cleaned areas up, built in cycle routes, created transport plans, pedestrianised streets, reopened them to traffic, re-pedestrianised them and (as is the case in Newport and no doubt elsewhere) made certain streets shared space with both cars and pedestrians (this is not as crazy an idea as it sounds, and actually works) and so on. 

Parking has been restricted, created and removed, made it free and charged for it, bus lanes have been created, removed and the hours when bus lanes operate varied. Now this is all well and good and may reflect the latest trend in regeneration and development, but at the end of the day has it made the places where we live, work and shop any better? Has the regeneration process or scheme increased or generated wealth in our communities or provided people with the opportunities to get jobs, to go into business for themselves or generate wealth? 

One of the unintended features of redevelopment is that quite often it is (or is perceived as being) driven from the top down i.e. by elected bodies whether they be Town or County Councils or the National Assembly. Regeneration is a process that merely consults after the plans have been drawn up rather than before, during and after - any process run this way runs the risk of becoming deeply flawed. Local communities and towns and cities of South Wales have over the years has been the recipient of much grant aid, development and redevelopment schemes and initiatives - how can we measure success? 

Measuring a regeneration schemes success should be a key factor in any regeneration scheme. This is the key question that needs to be asked - after the cement and the paint has dried, after the development / redevelopment / regeneration professionals have banked the cheque and moved on - have the various schemes made a difference. I mean beyond any immediate physical improvements to the environment, have they made a real difference when it comes to wealth generation in the area affected by the regeneration scheme and can the people who love here actually see and benefit from the change? 

If the end result is in reality a makeover, and the targeted community is no better off, save for being bereft of the 'regeneration funds' that have been effectively hoovered up by professional regeneration companies - is this success? How do you make regeneration projects work beyond the tick box list of the regeneration schemes managers? One key component that is often ignored or marginalised during the regeneration process is the communities greatest resource - its people.

If we truly want to build and develop strong sustainable communities then any regeneration scheme should from the start and at every stage of the process. We don’t need regeneration professionals coming into an area and engaging in a largely token consultation process. They should directly talk to local people (who are an asset to the process) and actually find out what they would like to be done, what they actually want for their community and their town.

If you are reusing or renovating old buildings then any regeneration scheme needs to ensure that old buildings can make a living after the regeneration scheme is finished. If we do this rather than merely making a token gesture towards public consultation then any regeneration schemes will, with hard work really begin to deliver tangible benefits to our communities. 

Regeneration schemes and projects should be bottom up rather than the top down. The bottom line should be when spending public money, work it extra hard and squeeze out every single possible benefit and maximise the impact locally of the regeneration process and build local benefits into the tendering process - whether by employing local people, using local resources, local skills and local input. As had been said elsewhere, regeneration should be a process rather than a cash extracting event.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Most but by no means all the people who are engaged, enraged or passionate about politics and perhaps journalism (at least at the editorial level), can be said are defined or shaped by the past, whether trying to right wrongs or injustices (perceived or real) or shaped by past events. This may well never have been so true than at the moment, as the east is no longer red, at least not since 1989 -1991, despite the old fashioned newspaper and media headlines. 

The east was never that Red
Russia, is an autocratic authoritarian state with nominally and questionably privatised state industries, it is no longer communist or even vaguely left wing (not that Soviet style communism was ever that left wing or particularly that communist especially during its most murderous tyrannical phase). Not that you would be able to tell this from the headlines in the tabloids and broadsheets - who are happily talking up a verbal spat between the UK and Russia and painting the east as red.

There are two issues here; the attempted murders in Salisbury and (a possible) murder in London (as yet by persons unknown or at least as yet unidentifiable) which are currently being investigated by the police and other agencies. That investigation should not be hindered by hysterical headlines and ramped up political point scoring rhetoric from Westminster. Leave the police to get on with the investigation, to develop and follow their leads to their conclusions unhindered by a Westminster lead media hysteria. 

The verbal spat with Russia, is something that suits politicians in both the UK and Russia. The motivation for attempted murders in Salisbury and the murder in London remain as yet unproven, although it is probably more than possible that elements of the Russian security service are involved but not necessarily a certainty at present. This public spat with Russia has looked for and has been talked up by the Conservative Westminster government for some months. 

While the latest incidents in Salisbury and London are well beyond the pale, this quarrel suits the current government, particularly as it will not move beyond a largely verbal spat, diplomatic expulsions and some boycotts. It has successfully and understandably dominated the headlines and helps to distract from more shambolic Brexit related domestic issues. 

The sudden discovery that Russia has an authoritarian government, is a little late - the annexation of Georgian territory, an organised land grab in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine have all taken place in recent years with barely an organised coherent response from the West.  What little response there has been has been modified by the deployment of significant soft power by Russia, particularly in France and a Germany but also quite possibly here in these islands. 

Whats is also being overlooked during the current media storm is that successive recent UK Westminster governments (New Labour, Con-Dem and Conservative (weak and wobbly) have all consistently failed to develop the UK’s energy independence. There is no strategy to  ensure that there is a long term energy strategy that develops the technologies necessary to curb the dependence on imported energy supplies from unstable or potentially hostile regions of the globe. 

They have also failed to deal with the consequences short and long term of questionable money laundering activities of the city of London and the impact of ‘Russian’ capital on the political system. Questions have been periodically asked over the years about the relationship between significant donors and the Labour and Conservative parties and about any political impact of any donations on policy and policy positions. 

Money laundering does not bring much by way of political or financial capital to the UK's financial system, once laundered the money moves on.  Many oligarchs live outside of the UK and pay pretty minimal taxation within the UK and they remain commercially and culturally tied to Russia.  Regardless as to how the spat with Russia plays out, one thing is pretty certain, Westminster will not do is investigate just exactly where the money comes from.  

Thursday, March 15, 2018


There is an old saying that goes along the lines of if you stand in the same place long enough everyone will walk past you at least twice. The bearded one, during another largely pointless point scoring exchange between himself and TM in the House of Commons on Tuesday, described himself as a democratic socialist (with a silent unionist not thrown in for good measure).

The problem is that the bearded one's vision / version is neither that democratic or that socialist, at least from a Welsh or Scottish perspective, and neither is is particularly original, visionary  or new. His vision of a democratic socialist UK which does not have a place for our national interest(s) which don't feature on the centralising statist agenda, is like something out of the mid to late 1970’s.

If it were possible to remove the Scottish parliament and the as yet not fully fledged but soon to be Welsh parliament, I am sure that JC and his ilk would not hesitate for a moment. His ilk will lay down their rhetoric for Ireland, Palestine or other deserving blue water causes and pine for a centralised British republic but remain strangely silent when it comes to Wales, Scotland or England for that matter, along with displaying spectacular perhaps Islington or metropolitan centric ignorance of devolved matters outside of the M25.

Despite the beardy spin, this is the same old centralist enemy - with the same old rebranded statist solutions - which failed to deliver last time. We, in Wales, have been here before. The centralists have promised much and delivered little that was lasting, save for a faint echo or faint ghost of long departed industrial and regional development. The underlying feature of the UK has always been that of centralism, it has never really gone away despite the roll out of devolution to redress the democratic deficit in the late 1990’s.   

Post Brexit both the Conservatives and the party formerly known as New Labour will eagerly grasp the opportunity to build their vision of a new centralist union. Westminster-rule has failed to deliver for much of Wales in most of my lifetime and it appears that things are only going to get worse as Whitehall ‘Britocrats’ scramble to protect the City of London at all costs, while our manufacturers and exporters are left to wither on the wine. 

If nothing else recent developments have shown how important it is that we actively resist Westminster’s attempts to roll back devolution through the Withdrawal Bill. This also shows the importance of Plaid AM Steffan Lewis’s Continuity Bill which is vital step to ensure Westminster ride rough shod over our hard-won right to run our own affairs.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


PM must impose immediate sanctions on sale of nuclear substances to Russia – Plaid Cymru

Russia is the UK’s biggest customer of depleted uranium, Plaid Cymru has revealed, with £1.2 million worth of the weapons-grade substance sold to Russia in 2016.

The UK’s total exports of depleted uranium in 2016 was £1.3 million, 92% of which was exported to Russia.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the production of enriched uranium, which is used as fuel in nuclear reactors and in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Depleted uranium has a range of military uses as a high-density substance, including the manufacture of fission bombs. Its use is controversial due to concerns about potential long-term health effects, which have become apparent since its deployment for the first time in the Gulf War.

The European Parliament has repeatedly passed resolutions requesting an immediate moratorium on the further use of depleted uranium ammunition, but the UK has consistently rejected calls for a ban, maintaining that its use is legal, and that the health risks are unsubstantiated.

In 2007, the UK voted again against a United Nations General Assembly resolution to hold a debate in 2009 about the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium.

Plaid Cymru’s Parliamentary leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, has called on the UK Government to impose immediate sanctions on the export of nuclear substances to Russia at a time when international tensions are fraught.

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

“This is an astonishing revelation that amidst all the tough talk from the Prime Minister about retaliation and sanctions in response to the assassination of Sergei Skripal, Russia remains the UK’s biggest customer of dangerous, weapons-grade depleted uranium.

“A state-sponsored assassination on English soil is a very serious act of aggression to which we must respond vigorously. But the revelation that we are selling millions of pounds worth of weapons-grade nuclear substances to Russia undermines the Prime Minister’s authority on the world stage.

“I greatly fear we are entering a very dangerous phase in international relations where the post-Cold War order may quickly evaporate. There are genuine fears that the world could quickly spiral into a second Cold War as the war of rhetoric between the US, Russia and China escalates into another dangerous arms race. The least we can do is to stop fuelling it.

“The UK Government’s own guidance states that depleted uranium should only be sold to customers who meet a set of criteria, including customers who can convey the intended end-use for the substance. By the UK Government’s own admission, the Russian state is not trustworthy.

“To put the safety of our people first, Theresa May should surely impose immediate sanctions on the sale of nuclear substances to Russia.”


Statistics taken from Trade Accelerator: which we verified as a reputable source through the House of Commons Library.

March 2007, European Parliament Resolution on the harmful effects of depleted uranium:

United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution to hold a debate in 2009 about the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium:

Monday, March 12, 2018


Small businesses play a significant role at the heart of our communities; they create wealth and sustainable employment opportunities for local people. Profits and investments made by them tend to stay within the communities where they are based. So rather than plunder small to medium sized entrepreneurs from Bristol, we need to grow and sustain our own small business creators in Newport and across Gwent and to make our towns and cities business SME friendly.

For too many years economic development in Wales has been focused on large scale development of what can be best described a single egg solutions, which promise much and deliver significantly less, the focus should be on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants.

This focus on attracting large-scale single source enterprises, which promise much but deliver significantly less than anticipated, is short sighted in the extreme. The LG development near Newport, was a good example of an expensive disaster / fiasco [please take your pick] which promised the usual total of 6,000 jobs - accrued significant public funding - which was committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague, yet never delivered anything like a third of what was promised.

A combination of what can best be described as fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and a forthcoming Westminster election led to one of the spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made, something that ended up costing us millions of pounds worth of public money. The WDA has in truth not really consistently delivered anything like long-term economic stability and much needed long-term job opportunities to our communities that it should have done.

European funding opportunities (soon to be a thing of the past) have been seriously wasted, where are the significant tangible assets, beyond some visibly badged infrastructure projects that you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail, road, broadband infrastructure, etc) that can bring long term benefits to our communities.

Amongst the questions that should have been asked is how much money has been scammed (and scammed may be the key word) into dubious training programmes and questionable educations programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy?

Back in the day the Plaid driven One Wales Government made significant efforts and attempts to think and act differently when it came to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises. This is the only real thing that will put wealth into our communities, and develop and sustain longer-term employment possibilities.

Attracting branch factory operations of a relative short-term duration might get some headlines but it does not help to sustain and develop our economy. We really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.

Friars Walk in Newport is a welcome exception to the last thirty five years, when across the south east, we have seen the commercial hearts of many of our communities (including Newport) seriously damaged (if not ripped out) as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision-making on the part of local government and central government indifference.

When combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable, ill-thought out and more than questionable out of town and edge of town retail developments which leave next to no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers and deprive consumers of real choice. When you factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities and you begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it.

Local small businesses as well as trading with us the consumers also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford.

Our National Assembly needs to have the power to vary business taxes in order to help boost our businesses, as well as encourage investment in skills and the tools of their businesses and their workers. If we are going to make Wales a nation of aspiring entrepreneurs and to encourage and enable them, our communities and our economy to flourish we need to encourage the development of community owned social enterprises.

It should be pretty clear to most people that before and after the banking crash - the present financial market and its institutions have failed over recent years to supply sufficient venture capital for the SME sector in Wales. One step forward would a venture capital fund for Wales, which should be established by, but independent of the Welsh Assembly Government

Such an independent venture capital fund could raise capital and deliver investment through a co-investment model, with approved private sector partners to our SME sector, where such investment would make a real difference. More of the same old twaddle from Whitehall and Cathay’s just simply won't do at all, vastly expensive one egg, one basket schemes to generate the seemingly standard 6,000 jobs, just won't do.

What we need is fresh thinking and action from the new government - more than just talk, we need some concrete steps to encourage growth, boost manufacturing industry, support our small to medium sized enterprises and an end to the business rates and that's just to start with.  Otherwise it will just be a case of same old, same old with ill thought out public sector cuts which will do nothing to boost our communities, our economy and that’s one thing we cannot afford.

Monday, March 5, 2018


laid Cymru - The Party of Wales, in Newport has submitted its response to the NCC request for comments on its ‘Newport Summit - City Centre Master plan’ proposals, before the deadline of March 5th. 

Peter Keelan, Plaid Newport City Development Spokesperson, said:

“The current City Council proposals are too short-term, Newport’s problems are not going to be fixed’ ready for the next local elections. The Council’s current proposals are too timid and show too little ambition and lack any clear joined up thinking as well as indicating a lack of any real coherent strategy’ and or well thought out action-plan to get us out of the recession in Newport.” 

He continued:

“Our city might be seen by the unambitious as a provincial town somewhere in Britain, but for those with vision it is potentially one of the three great cities in Wales, and can act as the “gateway to Wales” for visitors to Wales. Newport should aim to be a ‘Celtic City of Culture’, to progress in the same ways as cities like Aberdeen, Cork, and Swansea. Newport is not and it should not become simply a northern western suburb of Bristol.”

Peter concluded:

“We recommend creating a visually stunning iconic 21st century axis of buildings along Usk Way, that complements our stunning architectural 19th century axis along Commercial Street, plus exploring how, and when, a major international branch of the V&A fine arts museum could open in Newport, in a signature architectural building along the River Usk and devolving of an Office of National Statistics to Wales based in Newport, to initiate, develop, and provide statistical support across all areas of National Assembly powers, plus on the Rodney Parade side of the riverfront there exists the opportunity to create an international quality ‘sports village’ facility, right in the heart of the city centre area.”