Thursday, 18 November 2010
Labour and Plaid Cymru have now confirmed they intend to cut the health budget by almost £900 million over the next three years.
I believe the NHS in Wales is our number one priority.
If you look at some of the problems we currently face, such as scandalously bad stroke services, the worst preforming ambulance service in the UK and patchy palliative care services, we cannot afford not to protect the health budget.
Wales is already falling behind in key health outcomes compared to those in England.
In our manifesto we will set out the significant waste we have uncovered in the Assembly Government’s budgets.
The people of Wales will be able to see for themselves that our commitments are affordable.
Labour and Plaid risk turning Wales into the sick man of the UK.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
It is natural that concerns have been expressed about the changes announced to S4C’s funding arrangements. S4C was, after all, set up by Lord Wyn Roberts of Conwy. We cherish it.
All parties – in the wider sense of the word – are clear that independence for S4C is crucial.
Everyone can also agree that a sustainable funding stream is necessary. And there is still a discussion to be had about what happens after 2013/2014.
I believe it is incumbent on elected members of the National Assembly to embrace our responsibility for Welsh affairs.
I believe there must be a role for the National Assembly to somehow bring experience and knowledge to bear in the debate about the future of Welsh broadcasting.
The BBC Trust and S4C Authority will shortly begin their discussions on governance.
The Chair of the BBC Trust said last week he would like to “move quickly” to settle the future of the existing partnership.
S4C has already acknowledged – in A Process of Renewal - that “comprehensive reconsideration and a renewal of the channel’s mission and operation” is due.
This will allow the channel to adapt itself and remain independent.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
I have visited both castles personally. They are set in the most beautiful, breathtaking scenery and either of them is worthy of this title.
I hope as many people as possible will vote to ensure this title is won by Carmarthenshire.
More details can be found on the website
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Mobility scooters are an excellent way of allowing the elderly and infirm to retain their independence and their use is becoming more and more widespread.
Residents were asking if there were any plans to provide a storage area for such scooters and automatic sliding doors to allow easy access.
In their response, Wales & West Housing Association said:
“The issue of mobility scooters and their storage is becoming more prevalent at all of the Association’s retirement schemes. I can advise that staff have been investigating a suitable location for a mobility scooter store at Christchurch Court.
It appears that there is somewhere suitable and plans and costings are currently being considered.
With regard to automatic doors being installed, this work is being prioritised for all our retirement schemes across Wales.
Christchurch Court will be considered and as soon as funding is available, residents will be informed.”
I very much welcome this positive reply and am greatly encouraged by Wales & West Housing Association’s recognition of this and their commitment to making their homes more accessible for scooter users.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Concerns have been raised with me by residents of Cardigan about the proposed supermarket development on the Bathhouse site in Cardigan.
In reply, Jane Davidson said:
“Local planning authorities should collect and analyse retail information to inform preparation of their Local Development Plan. This should include considering the impact of existing, or proposed, supermarkets on town centres . Where there is an unmet need for further supermarket provision sites may be identified, giving preference to town centre or edge of town centre locations.
All planning applications for supermarkets over 2,500 M2 gross floor space should be accompanied by a retail impact assessment. Planning applications over 10,000 M2 which are departures from the development plan and all planning applications over 20,000 M2 should be notified to the Welsh Assembly Government so that a decision can be made on whether to call in the planning application.”
I have to say I remain concerned about the proposed supermarket development on the Bathhouse site in Cardigan.
I believe this will have a detrimental impact on the small, independent traders in the town as well as increasing traffic on Aberystwyth Road, North Road and Gwbert Road.
This is particularly pertinent as the application now also includes a petrol filling station thereby attracting more traffic to the area.
I have written to Ceredigion County Council to make my concerns known and will follow progress on this development closely.
I asked Alun Ffred in the National Assembly Chamber
“Funding for Theatr Powys has been cut by the Arts Council.
I recognise the valuable arm’s-length principle, but the Minister sets out the terms of operation in his remit letter, and I hope that, in his discussions with the Arts Council, he will address this particular concern.
The rurality of Powys means that without this educational theatre facility for schools, many schoolchildren would have no access to theatre. It is vital, and it is valued.
Will the Minister please raise the issue, in general terms, in the remit letter and in his discussions with the Arts Council?”
In reply, The Minister said:
“I am happy to give an assurance that these matters will be discussed when I next meet the Arts Council.”
I hope that the Arts Council Wales will listen to all the representations they have received and reconsider their decision to cut funding to Theatr Powys which plays such a vital role in the arts in Mid Wales.”
Monday, 8 November 2010
It is certainly good to see the arts flourishing in Mid Wales with Theatr Brycheiniog, The Wyeside and the Arts Centre at Aberystwyth, to name but a few. More seriously there are, of course, threats to some excellently funded arts projects in Mid Wales like Carad, Theatr Powys and Theatr Harlech. These are the life blood of civilised life and vitally important in Mid Wales.
I try to get to Brecon Theatre when I can and have enjoyed many performances there. Clear in my memory are one man shows by Henry Blofeld on cricket, Edward Fox on Trollope, and most recently Charles Collingwood on the Archers. Charles Collingwood is, of course, as all Archers fans know, Brian Aldridge. He is married to Judy Bennett (Shula in the radio series) and Charles Collingwood had his audience entranced with Archers tales and other diverse offerings like Alan Bennett’s sermon on a recent occasion at the Theatre.
It is certainly good to see the arts flourishing in Mid Wales with Theatr Brycheiniog, The Wyeside and the Arts Centre at Aberystwyth, to name but a few. More seriously there are, of course, threats to some excellently funded arts projects in Mid Wales like Carad, Theatr Powys and Theatr Harlech. These are the life blood of civilised life and vitally important in Mid Wales.
This week I visited an excellent business in New Radnor called ‘Ten Green Bottles Powys CIC’ or Community Interest Company to give it its full title. This is a form of business which operates as a social enterprise.
Absolutely brilliant. Its mission is described as making quality products from recycled glass in a supportive, work creative, training and volunteering environment. This it certainly does with Gordon’s Gin bottles, Marmite jars, and Ty Nant blue bottles. These entrepreneurs and team set out to make fruit bowls, Christmas decorations, mirror surrounds, tumblers, coasters, cheese boards and a host of other excellent presents.
I am told the only thing they cannot recycle is the labels from the bottles! They also provide fantastic job opportunities for local people and some with learning difficulties. The team spirit and the enthusiasm are palpable.
The business is expanding and there are some large orders in the offing as well as many people buying, particularly at this time of year, for presents for Christmas. The business also operates Glad Bags, making bags for life etc., from off cuts.
I can quite see this business expanding in a Body Shop sort of way. Perhaps even a British feel good type of movie like ‘Calendar Girls’ or ‘Made in Dagenham’ could be cast around the business.
I wish them every luck and think it has massive potential for success.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
It is extraordinary that more than twenty million people are still in thrall to the hereditary Communist dictatorship that governs their country.
The Beloved Leader, revered as a God and dead for 16 years rules from beyond the grave whilst his son, the Dear One carries out his earthly will.
There is little or no contact with the outside world and a North Korean youth asked to compare the Beloved one ( or was it the Dear One?) with rivals for the throne of greatest living leader could only mention Stalin and Mao as in the same league.
Famine haunts much of the country outside of Pyongyang and probably disease as well.
There are some markets for food and goods but although Sue Lloyd Roberts was ultimately allowed to visit one no cameras were permitted. Seemingly the hosts were embarrassed by their success and these markets she was assured were to be phased out. I was reminded of a good friend of mine, Edwin Liechtenstein, whose daughter Olivia was producing a TV programme on an aspect of Soviet life in the late 80s and had secured the visit to London of a Soviet policewoman. The Soviet woman could scarcely comprehend the freedoms in Britain and could not grasp at all that members of the public, as opposed to party officials, could buy goods in shops full of goods.
The mystery of North Korea is how the terror and the brainwashing has kept the state going for so long. Then again I recall a friend of my grandparents who was convinced that the Berlin Wall had been built to keep out West Berliners determined to seek a better life in the West. The reality, of course, was somewhat different.
Monday, 16 August 2010
The ballot opens for the leadership of the Labour party.
I believe that the election of a leader is going to help the Government as much as the Opposition.
Any likely victor (sorry Diane) will have been a Cabinet minister in the Gordon Gang and so 'steeped in the blood'.
He will have to explain where he was when all the policy errors on diverse areas from Iraq to pensions to tax and government borrowing were made. He will also have to set out a convincing argument for an alternative strategy to the current one.
Bring it on.
Sunday, 15 August 2010
A full inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly is surely needed to allay any doubts about his sad death.
It will be recalled that the normal inquest procedure was suspended by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.
Medical opinion continues to cast doubt on the cause of death.There are evidential doubts too. There is also a most unusual if not unprecedented embargo of 70 years on the release of Dr. Kelly's medical records.
The Hutton inquiry substituting for an inquest only briefly looked at the medical evidence.
Dr. Kelly served his country. In all conscience a proper inquest is needed.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Thanks to the cast of Calendar Girls. I managed to get along to the last evening of its run at the Wales Millennium Centre.
You can tell when a cast is enjoying itself and this cast clearly was. It was an exuberant performance of a life enhancing story before a very appreciative audience.
It is good to see the Wales Millennium Centre buzzing, and Ffresh restaurant straining at the seams too serving pre-theatre suppers with their usual grace and courtesy. There was obviously quite a lot of other activity going on too.
This really is a national institution that we can be rightly proud of.
Monday, 9 August 2010
Chance encounter with the great Barry John in Cardiff on Saturday as I walk home with my brother and his girlfriend from a trip into town.
Then on Sunday, as happens, we get a second powerful reminder of his magic when we are having lunch in the Waterguard in Cardiff Bay as there on the walls there are photos of that same great side as well as a more recent one of Barry.
Chatting with the staff we agree he is one of the great immortals. Surely time for some lasting monument.
I remember following the great Welsh rugby side of the early 70s the fluidity, the elan and the flair of Barry John. What a great era that was.
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Our tent was very busy and I took the opportunity to tour the Maes and meet with others. The situation at S4C certainly came up frequently as a topic of conversation and there is very real concern about the future of S4C. I am sure that it will get through the current difficulties as it is a vital institution for us delivering broadcasting in Wales for Welsh speakers and will remain so.
Heard from Alun Cairns that David Davies was on the Maes, and I joked to Alun that he was probably sitting at the Cymru Yfory stand as we spoke. Short while later passing the Cymru Yfory tent there, indeed, is David chatting happily away to Cynog Dafis. I go over and speak to them and tell David that I would be very happy to handle the press on this one if he is agreeable – don’t think he is quite ready for this yet. Not since I saw Chris Gwyther standing next to a burger van at the Pembrokeshire Show have I had such a scoop.
David has some good ideas about issues that will be looked at by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. I think it is really good that David has this niche and is taking it very, very seriously and obviously wants to make a positive contribution to Welsh issues. I think many of his detractors are in for a surprise.
The only problem with the Maes is it is very dusty, and on a warm day there are clouds of dust everywhere. It might be great for a remake of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (another great Welsh location for filming). It is a small price to pay for what, in every other respect, I think is an excellent Eisteddfod and all credit to the organisers.
Monday, 2 August 2010
As usual I read a great deal in the summer recess.
I have read 'The Third Man' by Peter Mandelson.
It is predictably well written. Its hero is prdicatbly vindicated on the major issues of the day. He is tough on Gordon Brown, who, whatever positive qualities he doubtless has, seems to have been a nightmare to work with and even worse to work for.
He is also clearly much more tribal than either Peter Mandelson or Tony Blair and so out of synch with the times. The tribal instinct seems to be what finally and fatally did it for Gordon and enabled Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg to make the groundbreaking Coalition agreement. A point not lost on the Baron Foy and Hartlepool.
From this tome of some 550 pages to an appropriate antidote in the shape of 'The Gropes' by Tom Sharpe. I am a massive fan of Tom Sharpe but in this volume he is not at his best, I feel. Certainly all the usual Hogarthian grotesques of characters are here as are many of the usual Sharpe ingredients:- explosives, bulldozers, violence, bandaged officialdom and Northumberland wilderness.
It is not as rib-huggingly, laugh-outloudishly funny as some of the classic Tom Sharpe's, particularly the Wilt series.
I have just finished reading one of the Morse books, which I must have missed, 'The Secret of Annexe 3 ' by Colin Dexter. It was a very enjoyable read indeed. For much of the tale it is not clear who the victim is, let alone the murderer.It is not oflen that I stay awake to read a book from alpha to omega but this was an exception.
And now to 'Jeeves in the Offing'. It could be forgiven to Shakespeare, some 350 years in advance of Plum to maintain that sleep 'knits the raveled sleeve of care' and so it does, but so too does the world of Wodehouse.
It is a world that never palls and it is a gentle, kindly humour that pervades the page. The reader is safe in the knowledge that order and justice will triumph. That's fine as far as I am concerned!
Thursday, 29 July 2010
Then again when the Race Relations legislation was first mooted there were voices raised against legislating in this area. I believe had we not done so there would have been racial division and bitterness in Britain today that has largely been avoided.
We would probably not have seen the emergence of politicians, business leaders and sportsmen and sportswomen from the ethnic minority communities that has occurred.
Thank goodness that we live in a country that has embraced change and diversity and recognised the strength that this gives our country and us all.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
We are all aware of those who helped to create the wonder of Hay that we see today and it is this wonderment that continues to attract people from far and wide. For sure, this attraction ensures a certain level of financial affluence but it is also the continual stream of new ideas that serves to stimulate the whole town.
Hay could easily serve other towns as a social and economic blueprint for success; if you could ‘bottle’ its charms, it would be a sure-fire best seller.
Anthony Ridge Newman who fought Ynys Mon for us in the General Election and who is committed and energetic gets Gower.
Angela Jones Evans is the choice for the Vale of Glamorgan. Angela fought Cardiff West for us previously.
Then last night Janet Finch Saunders who leads our group on Conwy council was selected for Aberconwy.
There has since been a headlong rush of candidates seeking to hyphenate their names before the selection process goes any further!
Quite seriously I wish them all well. I know all three well and they will make excellent members.They were all up against some very strong competition.
Monday, 26 July 2010
My concerns at the recent plans to merge these two organisations are well documented and consequently I was relieved when the merger idea was shelved only weeks ago in favour of ‘closer collaboration’.
One of the problems identified in preventing the merger was the NHS’ no redundancy policy at the Health Board; a policy that remains a very serious problem for the collaborative model.
The primary driving force behind this closer collaboration between Powys County Council and Powys Health Board is the desperate need for both organisations to reduce costs.
The envisaged streamlining of office functions between the two organisations will inevitably mean job losses. One would naturally expect and hope the burden of such cuts to be shared between both organisations, however as things stand with NHS policy, it is the Council that is going to incur all the consequential redundancies.
The Conservative group and I are in complete agreement on two points here. Firstly, the burden of any job losses must be shared between the Council and the Health Board; I will be raising this concern with the Health Minister as this policy will need to be addressed. Secondly, both organisations must focus solely on voluntary, rather than compulsory, redundancies.
We are all painfully aware that the consequences of Labour’s disastrous economic policy and their legacy of unprecedented debt, will mean some very tough years ahead. The need for Powys County Council and the Local Health Board to make these cuts is because of the financial and political incompetence of successive Labour led governments. However, where job losses are now inevitable, we must make sure that redundancies are made fairly and with as little pain as possible.
Totalitarianism and over-regulation explain why Eastern Europe had a marathon task of catching up to do when the countries behind the Iron Curtain threw off the Communist yoke, entered the free world and sought to trade through the European Union.
I am keen for Wales to emulate Singapore in terms of a low regulation, business friendly environment which will grow employment and swell the nation's coffers.
We need fairness too. No government for Wales can turn its back on the Valleys and their considerable challenges. We need to provide first class education in our schools, and we must tackle the deep seated health problems that confront so many people in some of our poorest communities.
One challege is that as transport links are improved to Cardiff some of the Valleys communities are developing into dormitories rather than living communities.
Use of European funds to attract jobs to these towns and villages is part of the answer. As a nation we have not so far made that transforming breakthrough with European funds, witness the fact that contrary to popular belief we are in danger once again of qualifying for additional funds because of I believe too that we need to draw the line a little closer to individual freedom than is the case in Singapore. I am personally pleased at the libertarian instincts of the present Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition government.
Future challenges in the next Assembly term will include, hopefully with full powers, electoral reform, financial accountability, working closely with the Higher Education sector (much undervalued) in delivering for Wales, freeing up schools and cutting bureaucracy, assessing how social care can be provided in a fair and cost effective way for our senior citizens, providing funding certainty and assistance for the voluntary sector, driving up literacy and numeracy in more deprived communities by focussed funding, protecting and enhancing the Welsh language including through the broadcast and written media.
Keeping the party united and heading in the same direction being not the least of the challenges!
Not much work to do there then!
It focussed on healthy eating and labelling.
I have always taken a rather paternalistic line on this. I believe that we do need a system that is clear to consumers on the amount of fat and salt etc in foods. Different supermarkets operate in different ways. Sainsbury's go for the traffic light system, and this has certainly resulted in switches to healthier options. Others like Marks and Spencer specify what percentage of the GDA (guideline daily amount) the salt, fat etc is. This too has shown changes by consumers to healthier options. Probably there is no need for prescriptive regulation on this.
The Consortium has also had success in that members like the large supermarkets, Burger King and McDonalds have been reducing salt and saturated fats in products.
Labelling is important. So too is education. I recall, and not long ago either, trying to get a salad at a restaurant in the Valleys. The response was not encouraging.
School meals and those at hospitals and care homes too need to reflect the need for healthier content. To my mind Jamie Oliver is a national hero for pushing the agenda on this.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
The Arts Council Wales recently made an announcement regarding funding for the arts in Wales, and this has had a massive impact in rural Wales where many organisations have had their funding withdrawn.
I have visited some of these such as Theatr Harlech, Theatr Powys and the Wyeside Arts Centre.
Given the impact that these cuts are having in rural Wales and the importance of scrutiny, I believe the Minister should facilitate the opportunity for proper scrutiny in the autumn of the principles on which the Arts Council is basing its decisions.
I appreciate that Arts Council Wales operates at arms length from the government, which is as it should be, and the Minister has no direct input but there are guidelines and principles issued by the Minister in his annual remit letter.
I believe this should be subject to review in view of the cuts in funding that rural Wales has seen in this round.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
This is almost beyond human comprehension. I find it difficult to comprehend the size of the national debt at nearly £1 trillion but this is way beyond even that.
It certainly puts things in perspective like Rick's row of beans in Casablanca.
Friday, 23 July 2010
I very much welcome news that Harlech Swimming Pool has secured a grant of £800,000 which will help secure its future.
I applaud everyone involved in the campaign to keep Harlech Swimming Pool open, especially the Harlech Swimming Pool Action Group which I had the pleasure of meeting on many occasions.
Without this pool, school children, pensioners and many others who used it on a frequent basis would have had to travel to Porthmadog to swim.
It is great to know that this facility has been saved for the benefit of the local community and my congratulations go to the campaign committee and to the community.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
The Conservative-Lib Dem Alliance has committed to review fair funding. No government has done that before and indeed as recently as the election campaign Labour's Treasury team in the shape of Alistair Darling and Liam Byrne were ruling it out. More recently still Ed Balls of the Labour persuasion said Wales was doing well from funding and Barnett should remain. They need to move on.
Members of the opposition parties in the National Assembly are missing no opportunity to push this agenda. Labour need to convince their top brass to change their tune and Plaid Cymru could do much worse than seek to convince their Scottish Nationalist colleagues of the need for change too.We need to push on other fronts too.
The economic inheritance from Labour is in stark contrast to the golden scenario they picked up in 1997 but within resources we need rail electrification to Swansea (though to hear Plaid Cymru talk you would think electrification stops in Bristol, it actually goes to the area around Heathrow, so it is quite a challenge!) The Defence Academy at St Athan is also obviously a key concern. Some aims are less costly.
I hope that patriation of the Welsh Archive to Aberystwyth from Kew can be achieved, for example.
Other things we need to deliver within NAW budgets: more focussed help for home grown Welsh SMEs, help for communities, whether rural or urban that want to protect community assets, a coherent strategy to tackle rural depopulation recognising the threat that this is to the Welsh language and to communities generally, a campaign to encourage walking and cycling, a roll out of Smart meters to homes in Wales, an NHS for for the twenty first century making fresh drugs and treatments available to all our citizens regardless of their address, a dedicated Art Gallery, a Welsh Statues Fund, and, on the process side, an effective Policy Unit drawing expertise from all sectors and all political backgrounds in Welsh life to set out policy options.
These are items from our policy menu, some of which have already been announced.
I am sometimes amazed when some of the more ideologically driven politicians in Wales talk of the reactionary nature of our policy in Wales. The most cursory of glances at our policy proposals would show how threadbare an attack this is.
No government gets it wholly wrong or wholly right and the last Labour government was no exception to that rule but they did leave us with a greater wealth gap than when they came in. In Wales we have 96,000 children living in poverty.
In other devolved areas there are problems too. Still waits for many treatments are too long (longer usually than in England), and our prosperity levels have slipped behind those of large tracts of Eastern Europe that a decade ago had trailed behind us economically, so let's not pretend that there isn't a job of work to be done!
Over a decade of neglect from Labour led Assembly governments and an unprecedented level of economic incompetence from a Labour government in Westminster has left us in Powys well used to the continual fight to save local services. The threat of closure to primary schools, post offices, community hospitals, public toilets, libraries and leisure facilities, amongst many other services, will remain firmly etched in the minds of Powys residents as the consequences of Labour’s disastrous economic legacy.
Small primary schools in particular have felt under siege over the last few years. All too often I receive letters or emails from parents or teachers, worrying about the future of their school. I note how the residents of Clyro are the latest community to launch a campaign to fight to keep their primary school safe from the current closure threat. I have witnessed on more than one occasion how the closure of a primary school can rip the heart out of a community. The closure of a secondary school is much rarer indeed; in fact comparatively speaking, seldom do you hear such proposals. For the closure of several secondary schools within a single authority like Powys to remain on the table as a legitimate proposal is absolutely shocking and quite possibly unprecedented.
If the closure of a primary school can rip the heart out of a community, then communities are rightfully fearful of being torn asunder by secondary school closures.
I have visited some of these secondary schools recently and I simply cannot imagine the closure of any one. Change and modernisation is often a necessity but the solution to Powys County Council’s very serious problem with secondary education funding must be resolved by means other than closure. Closer collaboration between schools, the streamlining of services and the sharing of resources are other less extreme options being looked at.
Whatever the decision, we must see all of Powys’ thirteen secondary schools remain open, including their sixth forms.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
It is now clear to most parents, school governors and communities who are facing a school closure within the county, that a number of Plaid councillors are obviously struggling with their education portfolio holder’s dogmatic stance on this issue which is to railroad these closures through come-what -may. Many parents and community members across the area have written to me with concerns that the consultation process on these closures is flawed and unfair, so it does not surprise me that councillors are at long last starting to question the party’s line, (well, the party’s line in Gwynedd, that is!).
However, what does surprise me, is how little take up of the story in the local and national media.
Rumour is rife in Gwynedd that the Plaid councillor for Bala has felt bound to resign from his party over this issue. Whilst Gwynedd County Council’s website shows that he may already have resigned as the portfolio holder of the Finance brief, remarkably, no headlines anywhere commenting on the likelihood that he may also have resigned from Plaid Cymru.
Just as several weeks ago, no reports of Ffred Ffransis’ and Cymdeithas y Iaith’s loud and vigorous protest in the public gallery of the council chamber when the controversial schools’ reorganisation was being discussed and accusations of ‘Bradwr!’ (Traitor!) were being hurled across the chamber, we find ourselves hitting yet another wall of silence surrounding the full events of last week.
Ah well, time for change! I am pleased to say that thanks to local people’s own social networking sites the news is getting out!
The Government needs to move to end the air of uncertainty about what happens next in relation to the control of bovine TB. Last week’s Court of Appeal judgement could have gone either way. The Government cannot have failed to countenance the possibility of losing the court action in the Court of Appeal and must, accordingly, have made some preparatory moves to deal with the possibility of losing the action.
For the people of North Pembrokeshire and area, for the farming community, indeed, for the people of Wales in general, the Minister needs to move to end the uncertainty about what she intends to do next.
We have backed the Minister and will continue to do so if she shows decisive action.
I usually manage to get a little more leisure reading done in the summer than during term time. I am keen to read the biography of Alan Clark by Ion Trewin, and will not doubt also read ‘The Third Man’ by Labour’s third man, though I am not sure that it adds greatly to what we already know, based on what has been in the Times and other media so far.
On the fiction front there are one or two Robert Goddard’s I have not yet read but I hope to catch up on, and I will no doubt dip into a re-read of some PG Wodehouse. I have also discovered Sharmini Flint who has written some South East Asian whodunits which appear to be very good. All of these plus some Colin Dexter’s and Ian McKewan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’ are on the ‘to read’ list.
I am also keen to read on one of my long train journeys through Europe ‘Halfway to Hollywood’ the Michael Palin diaries from 1980-1988. His kindly and ironic eye make for a very good read.
In passing, I am much relieved to find that Arthur Ransome, who was a staple when I was a school boy, has been cleared as a spy and was in fact responsible for recruiting MI5 agents in the Soviet Union for Britain. It is just as well, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and ‘Coot Club’ would never have been the same again!
The media perform a vital function in British public life. All should be treated equally by the media. It is increasingly hard to justify that uniquely in British public life the BBC should be exempt from publishing salaries and benefits of its highest earners, whether they are the stars of screen or radio, or whether they are members of the BBC Board.
In tougher economic times it is all the more difficult to justify this.
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Already people are highlighting the potential cost and voter fatigue. These are relevant matters no doubt and have to be balanced against the possibility of having some of the votes on the same day, i.e. the ‘Alternative Vote’ referendum and the Assembly elections.
I thought I would have a look at how they cope in Switzerland. Typically Switzerland, which practices direct democracy where citizens can challenge laws, has votes generally four times a year. They had four votes last year for example. These votes would include both referenda and elections, and the votes take place at the weekend, typically finishing at noon on the Sunday.
They cope there though admittedly turn out is generally below 50% unless there is something truly controversial.
Meanwhile discussion here will be had amongst Party Leaders and with the Secretary of State for Wales on how Wales approaches these votes.
The most likely scenario is the powers referendum in early March, and a vote on the issue of ‘AV’ and the Assembly elections both on 7 May 2011.
Clearly there is a cost to having these votes but then democracy doesn’t come cheap. All of the alternatives to democracy, and let’s face it there really is only one, look pretty unattractive to me.
No doubt we will cope.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
Unsurprisingly our political opponents have tried to accentuate differences and have been resolutely negative. No surprise there! You will not be surprised that I want to look at the very positive aspects of what has been happening in Wales over recent months, and there is much good news.
The new coalition government has clearly defined themes against which the legislative programme and the budget have been set.
Prime amongst these has been economic competence and the need to deal with the massive deficit that has been left by the Labour Party after their 13 years of government. They came into power with the outgoing Prime Minister, then Chancellor, promising an end to ‘boom and bust’ and left office with the biggest bust that we have ever seen. Whilst clearly there was an international element to this economic crisis, it is also undeniable that of the major economies we entered the recession first and left it last. Our currency was weaker against the dollar, and weaker against the Euro at the end of Labour’s period of economic turbulence.
The coalition budget, whilst making necessary cuts and increasing taxes in some areas, has introduced some very valuable initiatives and policy changes for us in Wales:-
the re-linking of pensions with earnings, with a floor limit of 2.5% increase if earnings have not grown by that amount in a year is very welcome news for Welsh pensioners;
(ii) the increase of personal allowances that will occur over the Parliament to take more people out of basic rate tax by increasing personal allowances is massively welcome news for Welsh workers; and
(iii) the provision to waive national insurance contributions for a year for businesses outside of London, and outside of the East and South-East of England, is a great boost for the Welsh economy which I hope the Welsh Assembly Government will ensure is fully utilised by the Welsh economy.
A second key theme of the coalition government is the promotion of devolution and localism. In England this is reflected in schools policy with more power being given to individual schools away from local authorities for example. In Wales this is a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government, but ‘local schools’ is a policy that has been espoused and put forward by Welsh Conservatives over a year ago.
At the same time Cheryl Gillan, as Welsh Secretary, has set about delivering the referendum with gusto. A draft question, agreed by the Project Board that she set up, has been submitted to the Electoral Commission as is required by law, and the Welsh Secretary has indicated that she intends the referendum to be held in the first quarter of 2011. This, I believe, is good news for Wales.
At the same time, and for the first time ever, a Westminster government has indicated the need for the Barnett Formula to change. Wales is disadvantaged by the present formula as, indeed, is England. The main beneficiaries are Scotland and, to a degree, Northern Ireland. It is important that the Welsh Nationalist party speaks to the Scottish Nationalists to seek to see if we can have a measure of agreement on how change should be made across the whole of the United Kingdom. At the moment the main bar for any change is Scotland, and in Wales we cannot sit back and see a system where parts of the United Kingdom are disadvantaged unfairly by another part.
The attitude of the coalition government to devolution and the Assembly is important. It is not mere symbolism alone that dictated that David Cameron would be in Wales so quickly after the general election victory of the coalition parties. He had always indicated that that would be the case and, of course, he is no stranger to the Assembly, having visited even before becoming Leader of the Party.
In contrast, Gordon Brown never entered the Senedd nor, indeed, did Tony Blair, though he made one visit at the original opening of the Assembly some 11 years ago. The agenda of respect that has been heralded by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister means we enter a new era where there is more effective partnership working between Westminster and the Assembly.
The new Secretary of State, who is determined to tackle the issues in her in-tray, demonstrates this approach. Assembly Members are only too well aware of the approach of her immediate predecessor Peter Hain. A consummate politician though he may be, his visits were characterised by an approach to Assembly business that often appeared 50% pantomime villain, 50% Victorian pater-familias. There certainly didn’t seem to be any desire for dialogue across the party divide.
The Housing LCO is to be delivered too as the coalition government heralded. Procedural difficulties meant that no amendments could be made but the decision of the Secretary of State in those circumstances to agree to the LCO was an instant one, with which I am in total agreement.
I am sure that this close dialogue will continue and be repeated over the next 5 years. It is an approach that has been welcomed publicly by the parties in the Welsh Assembly Government – let’s hope it is not undermined by private, anonymous briefings by some of those who work in the shadows for the Shadow Ministerial team at Westminster or others.
The challenges in Wales, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, are immense. In Wales, whilst protecting our excellent public services, there is no doubt that we need to grow the private sector. The Welsh economy has shrunk relatively against the rest of the United Kingdom during Labour’s period in office and that is not mere political hype, that is based on the Office of National Statistics figures.
We need too to free up our schools so that they are free of local authority control and operate within the parameters set by government but with the ability to use their own budget as they see fit. They know their schools best.
Under the Welsh Conservatives, the health budget would continue to grow. It needs to do so. New drugs are becoming available and we want to make sure that they are available to patients quickly. New treatments are coming on stream and once again patients should benefit from these new treatments.
We need to strip away much of the target philosophy that has been the key feature of the Labour years, and once again to ensure that decisions are taken by clinicians at local level rather than by ministerial dictat from Cardiff.
On the economy we need to ensure resources are used not just to promote the private sector, whether by macro-economic levers of taxation at Westminster, as the Chancellor has already done, or by intervention in Wales itself. By promoting green jobs we achieve not just the important and desirable goal of expanding the Welsh economy, but also the goal of tackling the daunting challenge of climate change.
It is by this imaginative thinking that we need to ensure that we get full value for the Welsh pound in utilising the National Assembly budget. Whatever the short term massive challenges are, and given the national debt approaching a trillion pounds, they are immense, I believe the medium to long term future for Wales is bright, and that the sort of agenda that I have outlined will help us to deliver a brighter future for Wales.
Monday, 28 June 2010
The loss of these allowances, which were due to be scrapped by the previous Labour Government, could have had a devastating effect on thousands of self-catering operators in Wales. We fought against these proposals in the National Assembly but the Labour/Plaid administration failed to stop Labour’s proposal.
Massive concern was expressed to me last year by the Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators (WASCO) and many other small business owners regarding the repeal of the Furnished Holiday Letting Rules.
Labour’s highly damaging proposals were made without any consultation with self-catering operators and any study into the impact they would have on their businesses.
The tourism sector in Wales is vital to our economy and I am delighted this has been recognised by George Osborne in his budget.
Saturday, 26 June 2010
When I was a student at Cambridge Peter Walker was the patron of PEST (Pressure for Economic and Social Toryism) the forerunner of TRG (Tory Reform Group). I was a member of PEST as well as of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Peter Walker was then a Cabinet Minister in Ted Heath’s government and was actively and dynamically promoting the sort of Conservatism that is now back in fashion. Curiously Peter Walker was always sceptical about Europe. He was not a Europhile.
I was to come into close contact with Peter Walker during the Chesterfield by-election in 1984 (fought on St David’s Day). Peter Walker was then the Secretary of State for Energy and the by-election was fought against the backdrop of the miners’ dispute with Mrs Thatcher’s government. Chesterfield was part of the Derbyshire coalfield and had working mines in the constituency. Peter Walker came up to Chesterfield to speak in my support and was then, as he always was, good humoured, bright, dynamic and totally master of his brief. As an extremely capable and adept Minister, he was trusted by Margaret Thatcher in a succession of roles (Energy, Agriculture, Wales), despite the fact that they were from different wings of the Party. They were from remarkably similar backgrounds and had a relationship of mutual respect.
It is, as Secretary of State for Wales, that Peter Walker is probably best remembered. Margaret Thatcher was keen to have a Minister of dynamism who could handle such a wide ranging brief, and readily agreed to the only condition that Peter Walker laid down that he was given a totally free hand to get on with the job in Wales without Prime Ministerial interference. For her part Mrs Thatcher always honoured the bargain. Famously John Major relates that the only time when he had difficulties settling a departmental budget was with Peter Walker, when Peter Walker said "I am holding out for more money, speak to the Prime Minister she will back me up". John Major, believing that there was no way she would do so, contacted the Prime Minister only to find that Margaret Thatcher backed Peter Walker on this matter.
Over the years Peter Walker came to Wales on many occasions, not least to campaign in General and Assembly Elections. He was always supportive, always handy with good, sound advice, and rightly proud of his period of office in Wales, which was characterised by dynamic leadership and a succession of private sector successes that were certainly the envy of other parts of the United Kingdom.
He must have been pleased to see the advent of a Conservative Prime Minister with the sort of centrist right-wing agenda of which he would have been proud. He must have been also massively proud to see his son, Robin, win the seat at Worcester which he had held for so long himself (though on different boundaries). I, myself, fought the seat in 1997 when I was to see Peter Walker on many occasions once again. The seat was a different one from the one that Peter had fought of course. Many of the villages and Peter Luff, Peter Walker’s successor as MP, had gone into mid Worcestershire.
A successful businessman in his own right; a politician with very sensitive political antennae; an accomplished administrator and a true public servant, he will be massively missed in Wales, in the United Kingdom and more widely. I will certainly miss his support and his sound advice.
Friday, 25 June 2010
This is true for Arts Council Wales which is currently undertaking a spending review with a report due this summer.
Excellent outlets such as Theatr Powys and the Wyeside Arts Centre as well as groups like Powys Dance rely on Arts Council of Wales funding to grow and to thrive and find it difficult to access private sources of funding, unlike similar centres and groups in Cardiff.
The aim must be to secure and increase future funding for facilities like Theatr Powys and the Wyeside Arts Centre and groups like Powys Dance which play such a significant and valuable role in bringing the arts to Powys.
Yesterday I visited another of our truly excellent Arts venues-the Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, where Alan Hewson has done such fantastic work over the years.
I pay tribute to the many charities, organisations and volunteers who help provide transport to patients, particularly from Powys to Shropshire and Herefordshire.
It can be a long journey from towns and communities such as Rhayader, Nantmel and so on. The Institute of Rural Health has found examples of patients having to pay return taxi fares of up to £70 for a round trip when an ambulance was not appropriate and when they were unable to access Dial-a-Ride.
I asked the Minister if she has given any thought as to how these sorts of costs can be met.
These are often old or vulnerable people who have no way of finding that sort of money and who, therefore, are not accessing the treatment that they need.
In reply, Edwina Hart said:
“We have to recognise the cross-border dimension in rural Powys with regard to these particular issues. I am more than happy to take this matter up and will come back to members on it, because it raises points of real concern.”
I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that there is a problem and look forward to her coming forward with proposals to help elderly and vulnerable people in rural Powys meet the transport costs incurred in accessing health care.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Dolmynach House is a Victorian property that was left to Powys County Council sixteen years ago following the death of its owner, Leila Williams, to be preserved as a period property for the general public.
For a long time now many people have been working to bring this project to fruition and I can remember years ago calling for a meeting to press Powys into action.
The Dolmynach Community Group has worked hard to get this museum open for the enjoyment of the public and I look forward to visiting Dolmynach House in the near future.
Proposals for the future of High Schools have been outlined in a new document by Powys County Council.
One thing is certain, we must ensure there is the widest possible consultation on these plans to restructure Secondary and Post-16 Education in the county.
I accept that we need always to keep under review our educational system and the need to tackle falling rolls and financial pressures.
I believe the starting point should be how we keep open our excellent Secondary Schools whilst accepting that some changes to delivery may be needed.
The principle must be how we can continue to deliver excellent education without ignoring rurality and preserving communities when looking at future provision.
The current document is a pre-consultation document and consultation needs to be thorough and thought through.
I note Powys County Council wishes to complete this process and implement any changes by September 2011.
I believe this may be too short a period to ensure the widest possible consultation on proposals that are likely to cause considerable concern amongst parents and pupils.
Last Friday, I met with Dr Medwin Hughes to discuss the exciting plans for a new University in Wales.
University of Wales Trinity St David will be established in September this year by bringing together the University of Wales, Lampeter and Trinity University College, Carmarthen.
Dr Medwin Hughes is the Vice–Chancellor designate of the new University.
We had a very constructive and informative meeting and we agreed that this combines the chance to offer exciting new opportunities whilst building on the sound foundations of the historic inheritance of the two oldest Universities in Wales.
I was also pleased to hear of collaboration plans with regional Further Education Colleges and Swansea Metropolitan University.
I wish Medwin and his team every success in the future.
Monday, 14 June 2010
This new initiative is a landmark programme to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and has Prince William as its Patron.
The aim is to protect a network of 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Fields in communities all across the UK as a permanent and lasting legacy of The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.
Next year the public will be asked to vote for their favourite local playing field to be protected and become a Queen Elizabeth II Field.
I think this is a great idea and hope communities and local authorities in Wales will play their part in making this scheme a success and protect and preserve playing fields.
These events and this initiative present important opportunities to extend and protect playing fields in our communities across Wales.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
I am concerned to hear about possible job losses at Rachel’s Dairies in Aberystwyth.
Jobs are under threat there because the owner of the company, Dean Foods based in Dallas in the US, is revising its position with regard to all of its holdings.
This means that the largest private sector employer in Aberystwyth, and an iconic business, is in danger of losing jobs.
I have called on the Assembly Government to issue a written statement, so that we can reassure the people who depend on Rachel’s for their livelihood, as well as those who consume that company’s products.
Rachel’s Dairies is one of the UK’s oldest producers of organic dairy products and the largest private sector employer in Aberystwyth so any loss of jobs would be a serious blow to the town.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
This is in spite of an admissions panel ruling that they should be granted places.
This situation is grossly unfair and these children need to be admitted straight away.
I visited the school personally last Thursday to meet teachers and Governors to discuss this matter and I am concerned that these vulnerable children could lose vital ground in their education.
I have written to Powys County Council, The Education Minister and the Children’s Commissioner to try to get this resolved as soon as possible.
Monday, 7 June 2010
Obviously there is still some way to go but this is fantastic news.
The RBL inform me that this preferred bidder is an established care provider in Wales and that the intention of this potential purchaser is to take on Crosfield House as a full going concern, with residents and staff remaining in place.
Let’s hope the remaining negotiations are successful so that the staff, residents and indeed all those in Rhayader and the surrounds, can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Friday, 4 June 2010
I am greatly impressed by David Cameron’s performance at his first Prime Minister’s Question Time.
He came across as confident and totally in command of the House of Commons.
He even managed to answer the questions, something Gordon Brown failed to do, and without referring to a sheaf of briefing papers which Gordon found indispensible.
He did so in a courteous manner which, I hope, sets the tone for future Question Times.
All things considered, an excellent start for the Prime Minister.
If Carwyn Jones is disappointed then I’m afraid he only has the previous occupants and his colleagues to blame. The former Secretary of State Peter Hain claimed to have Wales’ best interests at heart, especially when it came to the referendum but we soon found out when Cheryl Gillan took office that there had been little progress.
Since taking office, the Secretary of State has been honest and open about the timetable for delivering a referendum. We now have a clear map of the road ahead.
If we retrace the steps that bring us to the present, it is difficult to see how the First Minister can suggest that the inability to deliver an autumn referendum is any thing other than one of the many unwanted legacies of the previous Labour government.
The All Wales Convention reported back in November 2009. However, a ‘trigger vote’ did not happen until February 2010 and even then the letter to then Secretary of State formally requesting a referendum sat on the First Minister’s desk for another 10 days. I repeatedly pressed Carwyn Jones to rule out a referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections. Until the middle of May he had failed to do that.
Then just over 2 weeks ago, the First Minister issues a Ministerial Statement which suggested an October referendum as well as a draft question. Just like that, out of nowhere. Without any serious consultation.
We all know the reality of the situation is that proper, robust consultation must take place. There are obligations on both the Secretary of State and the Electoral Commission to not only deliver a question that has been fully tested meet electoral regulations and allow adequate time for a campaign on the vote. These requirements are vital to the delivery of a referendum question and a referendum date and we must not be over hasty regarding this process.
The First Minister says we must wait and see whether the Prime Minister and the Government can work constructively with the Assembly Government. Perhaps it’s time the First Minister took his own advice over this referendum process and focussed his energy on the campaign ahead. I have repeatedly urged him to push forward with the referendum process and have found him lacking the necessary commitment and passion about this vital issue. Most recently, I wrote to him on the 20th May reminding him that some time ago I urged the setting up of a ‘yes’ campaign with each of the 4 parties in the Assembly nominating representatives. I urged him once again to move swiftly to ensure that such a campaign is up and running. To date I have had no response to the letter.
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
This is an important move towards ensuring that there is greater transparency in government and public services.
We must be honest and open with the public about the way their taxes are being spent, and by increasing the information available we will allow the public to more closely scrutinise the government and public service providers.
I would urge the First Minister to follow this example and commit to making more government data available in Wales.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
I took the opportunity yesterday during First Minister’s questions to ask Carwyn about the Assembly Government’s plans to refurbish its offices in Cathays Park at a cost of £42 million. A massive spend at the best of times but clearly crazy in these difficult economic times.
Plans for the refit were revealed in March 2009 with a project team being set up at a cost of £100,000.
Imagine my surprise when Carwyn confirmed the plans had been ditched and there would be no refurbishment of Cathays Park.
I find it extraordinary that the Assembly Government has ditched these plans, having set up a project team to implement them, without making a statement to the Assembly.
We were told a refit was necessary because the existing accommodation was inflexible, unable to respond to changing business needs and there were health and safety issues.
Either those problems have been resolved or they are no longer considered important enough to justify the spending of £42 million of taxpayers money.
Although I welcome the decision, it is a disgrace that the Labour/Plaid coalition has attempted to quietly drop these plans without any public announcement.
It reminds us all of the arrogance of promoting such a crazy scheme in the first place but at least it is dropped now—not before time.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
This followed complaints I received from visitors whose enjoyment of the National Park was ruined by these bikers.
Unfortunately, a complaint I recently received clearly shows that scrambling remains a problem.
People come from a long way to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the Brecon Beacons and it is unacceptable that bikers should ignore the signs prohibiting this activity and wreck other people’s enjoyment.
I will be meeting John Cook, Chief Executive of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, on Thursday and I intend to raise this issue.
Friday, 21 May 2010
"I am writing to update you on what seems to be the position in relation to the forthcoming referendum on full powers.
As you know, two years ago I suggested to you that you should be the nominee from our Group for a ‘Yes’ campaign organisation and you kindly agreed to this. I discussed the need for such a group with Rhodri Morgan, and subsequently with Carwyn Jones.
I have now written to the First Minister once again to take action on this front. There is already a campaigning ‘No’ organisation up and running and, alas, there is no balancing ‘Yes’ organisation.
As you know our Group has discussed the timing of the referendum and this has also been discussed by the Party. I have repeatedly pressed Carwyn Jones to rule out a referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections. Until yesterday he had failed to do that but I am very pleased that he now seems to have come round to this view. Kirsty Williams, in fairness, had also argued strongly that the Assembly election day should be ruled out.
Alas it seems obvious from Cheryl’s public statement and the evidence that little work has been done on this matter by Peter Hain since the request for a referendum went in from the Assembly. Our firm preference would still be of an October referendum as I think this would ensure that the issue did not get inextricably linked with the Assembly election campaign. The lack of action from the government parties in the Assembly, and from Peter Hain, seems to make this unlikely to say the least.
I am copying this letter to Catrin Edwards as Chairman of the Party in Wales, and to Cheryl Gillan.
As soon as I have a response from Carwyn Jones and the other Leaders about a campaigning group for a ‘Yes’ vote I will inform you and the Group in the Assembly and the wider party. "
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Some time ago I urged the setting up of a ‘Yes’ campaign group with representatives from each of the four parties here to Rhodri Morgan, and subsequently to Carwyn Jones. The response from Carwyn Jones was that he didn’t want anything to happen before the General Election. I can understand this but now that is out of the way it would be sensible to get a ‘Yes’ campaign group up and running. If it is to be a level playing field this surely needs to happen.
People like Daran Hill have put this very much on the agenda, and Daran had a meeting on this last night. It was my loss that I didn’t get to this partly because of business in Plenary over-running and partly because of a pile of work on my desk, but I understand that out there people are expecting and hoping for a lead on the campaigning front from a ‘Yes’ organisation to counter the organisation that is already up and running campaigning for a ‘No’ vote.
This cuts across political parties, it cuts across the Welsh public, and it is important that there is a proper debate on this issue before a vote is taken.
I look forward to this happening. In the meantime, I am dropping a note once again to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and to Kirsty Williams to urge action.
Monday, 17 May 2010
This rock and the slogan have iconic and historic significance for us in Wales and I was concerned that the rock had been daubed and the slogan defaced.
However, prompt action has meant that it has now been repainted and the slogan restored.
I very much welcome the restoration of this important part of our cultural history to its previous state.
I know too that the community of Llanrhystud, together with the National Trust, is raising funds to protect this iconic symbol. This should help to protect this monument in the long term and that is very good news.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
I recognise the statesman-like response of both parties to this agreement which addresses the needs of the time, and acknowledges the verdict of the electorate.
This agreement will bring much needed stability to government and I look forward to working with the new Westminster team which I am sure will be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of Wales. Certainly, this has been David Cameron’s approach to Wales throughout his leadership.
We all want to develop a positive working relationship between Westminster and the Assembly to deliver the best possible outcomes for Wales.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Today, we await the outcome of the current negotiations to see who will become Britain’s next Prime Minister.
The challenge any incoming government faces in 2010 is different from 1940, but in many ways no less daunting. How do we deal with Labour’s massive deficit to get our economy back on track.
What is clear is the nation needs a stable government that can command a majority in Parliament to take the difficult decisions necessary to achieve this.
It remains to be seen whether the national interest will take precedence over Party advantage.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
This means a quarter of Welsh pensioners living below 60 per cent of national average wage.
When I asked Carwyn Jones about this he replied that he was not responsible for the contents of a Plaid Cymru website.
Older people deserve dignity and respect in their old age, not a First Minister who, when faced with official statistics, treats them both with contempt.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
According to WAG, a manufacturing defect has prevented the turbine from functioning for any great length of time since its installation and the manufacturers are currently carrying out a repair programme throughout the United Kingdom for such turbines.
How much has this cost the Welsh taxpayer?
Well, the turbine cost approximately £48,000, which includes the cost of installation, before we even begin to calculate the extra cost of providing power to the building due to its failure to operate.
People should remember this when they hear politicians claim you cannot make savings by cutting Government waste.
Thursday, 25 March 2010
The decision by Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly Members not to cross the picket line yesterday was a disgrace.
I accept that the Civil Service Compensation Scheme is in need of reform.
It is regrettable that dialogue has broken down and that industrial action is happening for a second time.
Whilst I defend the union’s right to hold this strike I am concerned that the decision to boycott business again sets a dangerous precedent.
Yesterday, I led the Opposition in a debate on the "One Wales" agreement and the Assembly Government’s total failure to deliver improvements in the Economy, the NHS, Education, Child and Fuel Poverty, to name just a few.
No-one from the Assembly Government was prepared to defend their record in the Chamber. It was an affront to democracy in Wales.
Monday, 22 March 2010
“The Barnett formula is coming to the end of its life, there is no doubt about that – even Lord Barnett says it’s coming to the end of its life. I think it’s very important that there should always be a proper needs-based formula which respects the fact that Wales has some areas of deep poverty and some needs and requirements greater than other parts of the United Kingdom, there’s no doubt about that”.
This is good news. Welsh Conservatives have long called for a review of the Barnett formula and a proper needs-based assessment of funding for Wales. I welcome David Cameron’s commitment to achieving this for Wales.
Monday, 15 March 2010
This "Dog Tax" would not affect the owners of the most dangerous dogs as the Dangerous Dogs Act already bans the ownership and sale of fighting dogs like pit bull terriers. It is possible for dogs to be exempted from the ban, but owners must have their dogs neutered, muzzled and obtain third party insurance.
Owners of dangerous dogs which are already illegal are unlikely to take out such insurance as they will just continue to defy the law.
There are an estimated 330,000 households with dogs across Wales who would be required to pay a compulsory dog tax. Although some homes already have pet insurance, the poorest homes will be hit hardest by the new levy, such as pensioners for whom a dog may be their only company. The government has admitted that this dog tax may result in more stray and abandoned dogs and greater pressure on dog rescue centres.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Its importance to both Aberystwyth and to Wales goes way beyond the beautiful and iconic building which overlooks the town.
Like many others, I expressed my concern at the time at its having to close on Saturday mornings due to budget cuts.
However, the good news is it is reopening on Saturdays from 8 May, although collections will be limited to items ordered in advance.
The meeting rooms, café and shop will also be open to the public.
This is good news indeed. The Library provides a huge boost to the tourism economy of Mid Wales by attracting people whose sole purpose in visiting Aberystwyth is to trace their ancestry. This institution belongs to the people of Wales and must be allowed to continue the excellent work and service currently carried out.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
As he pointed out, when Labour came to power, Britain was the 4th largest economy in the world. Now it is forecast within 5 years to be the 11th, behind not just China, but also France and Italy.
In 1997, we were ranked 7th in the world for the competitiveness of our economy. Now we are 13th.
We were 4th in the world for our tax and regulation. Now we are 84th and 86th. And we are the last G20 country to emerge from recession.
Gordon Brown once claimed to have saved the world. If so, he did it by wrecking the British economy.
This would not only result in job losses but would be a serious blow to local broadcasting and Welsh Language broadcasting in particular in Wales.
I hope the negotiations currently taking place will secure the future of the station and I have written to the Heritage Minister and to Tindle Newspapers who own Radio Ceredigion to stress the importance of this matter.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Michael Foot was a great adopted son of Wales.
I saw him last campaigning in Blaenau Gwent in the by-election caused by Peter Law’s sad and untimely death.
He was a parliamentarian of great skill, and one of the best post war orators.
A distinguished man of letters, he made a significant contribution to British public life. He was a remarkable man and in many ways, almost the last link to a more heroic age in politics.
Michael Foot was a champion of Parliamentary democracy and the House of Commons, who believed in public service and wanted to make it a better place. Above all he was an idealist, someone who was in politics for the right reasons and someone who wrote and spoke beautifully.
His death breaks a link with the political past but his contribution to national life will not be forgotten.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Their visit was to highlight the threat to the future funding of the service, and to promote the petition they are currently circulating.
This coincides with a Welsh Conservative debate this afternoon on the issue of dementia care across Wales.
There is a severe shortage of care home places in Wales dedicated to dementia.
Almost half of care home residents with dementia in Wales are not receiving care in settings suitable to their needs.
There is a ‘postcode lottery’ of services in the UK, with a report last year concluding that services in Wales are the worst in the UK.
Welsh Conservatives call for the Dementia Plan for Wales to be published as soon as possible. Wales desperately needs the National Dementia Plan in order to establish where to target resources. Only then can we even begin to develop the necessary facilities, which will not be done overnight.
I have spent some time over the last few days discussing Ceredigion and Dwyfor Meirionnydd issues with Lisa Francis. She is, of course, very well known and respected in the patch and very familiar with the area.
The Aberystwyth Holiday Village remains an issue that concerns me greatly. There are many planning issues in Ceredigion and sometimes it seems that enforcement is not the strong suit of the County Council. Currently there are many people on the site concerned about their future because of the lack of planning permission on the site for all the mobile homes that are there. The issue remains unresolved. We have written to the County Council about this issue, of course. The Minister is aware of the situation though, for understandable reasons, cannot get involved.
Health issues too are very important in the area. The importance of CHCs and continuing local input is one that Lisa and I have discussed at length. The ambulance service, again, though it has shown some signs of improvement, is a real concern in rural Wales. It is not just response times that cause concern but, of course,non emergency ambulance transport and the fact that keeping an early morning (9.00 am) hospital appointment at Ysbty Gwynedd is impossible when you need to travel from Dolgellau (two hours away by road) and the ambulance service doesn't actually start until 9.00 am! Too many of our erlderly citizens are having to rely on the good will and kindness of their family and friends because this service fails to provide them with transport theyneed at the relevant time.
Another vital issue relates to school closures. This is currently a massive issue in Gwynedd. It is also an issue in Ceredigion and, indeed, in Powys. In rural Wales the importance of small, tightly knit communities and, of course, importance of our Welsh language, is also very much at the forefront of our campaigners minds.
Lisa has recently met with the excellent Louise Hughes who is doing very good work on this issue in Gwynedd, and we spent sometime discussing this too.
Business rate problems, large wind farms, farm payments also feature.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Today I received their report counting the cost of irresponsible alcohol promotions in the night-time economy in Wales.
I have looked at this excellent document and have much sympathy with the points that it is making.
Around half of venues in Wales offer some form of promotion on alcoholic drinks from the survey that was done on pubs and clubs in Newport, Swansea and Wrexham. Furthermore alcohol is sometimes cheaper than the cheapest available soft drink. This is surely a nonsensical position.
Often, too, venues offer pints and spirits, sometimes in double measures, for as little as a pound and 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 deals were available in a number of venues.
I become increasingly convinced that the government needs to do something drastic on this such as fixing a minimum unit price for alcohol in shops and in supermarkets as well as pubs and clubs.
Well done to Andy Misell, the Policy Manager of Alcohol Concern Cymru.
Friday, 19 February 2010
I have been concerned for some time about the enforcement of planning controls and planning decisions (or the failure to do so) by Ceredigion County Council, and I am in discussion with the County about this.
It is a general concern but I have the most concern with Aberystwyth Holiday Village, a case I have been working on with County Councillor Aled Davies.
It involves potential homelessness as well as the failure to enforce planning decisions. Many people living on the site have taken legal advice and consulted politicians and the CAB.
There are other aspects of planning that concern me and I will be raising these with the Minister.
I have previously raised this in the Assembly and written to the Minister to express my concerns.
The pound is weak and the result is that imports are more expensive. This has the effect of pushing up prices and the rate of inflation.
Current interest rates cannot match the rate of inflation and basic rate tax.
One more reason for a change of government.
are always plenty of healthcare issues in the 'In tray'. Currently two important ones feature Meirionnydd Dwyfor. They also reflect concerns elsewhere in my area and throughout Wales.
The changes to Community Health Councils is a concern up and down Wales. I believe strongly that these bodies need to reflect local concerns and anxieties.
The abolition of the Meirionnydd CHC is, in my opinion, wrongheaded and undermines local health care provision. There are issues too about the appointment of new representatives to CHCs, with places being left unfilled.
I am also very concerned about many EMI patients who, when moved out of hospital into a care home (and I am certainly not against the move per se as it is often totally the right thing to do), are moved far far away from their loved ones and friends. This is happening in many parts of my area including Meirionnydd and it is cruel and needs to be stopped.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Many owners of dogs that are dangerous avoid the ban on specific breeds by mixing illegal breeds with legal ones as cross breeds avoid the ban.
Dogs from legal breeds can, however, be seized too if they are dangerously out of control.
Indeed seizures and prosecutions have increased massively in the last decade. Deaths and serious mauling from dogs in Wales and the UK as a whole have increased too.
Possible actions include registration of dogs, micro-chipping, an amnesty for surrender of illegal dogs and amendment of the Dangerous Dogs Act.
The problem is multi-faceted, interlinked, as it often is, with social deprivation.
The Kennel Club is to be congratulated on their work to date. Action is needed.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Over the weekend I decided to do a walk in the Beacons setting off from Llanfrynach. This is, as are many villages in the area, a very tightly knit community well served by people who live here.
Regular walkers will know the importance of public conveniences at the beginning and end of a walk, and I was pleased to see that the community of Llanfrynach had taken over the running of the local ‘ty bach’ from Powys County Council when Powys decided it could no longer finance the running of the conveniences.
Far too much of the work of an Assembly Member seems to be taken up with fighting closures of one sort or another, whether it is a local school or Post Office, a health facility, a Police Station or public conveniences. Closures in general , of whatever kind, scarcely represent progress for communities in the 21st Century. I was therefore delighted to encounter this excellent facility in the village. It appeared to have been turned into a mini art gallery inside with photographs. It was very well tended and I understand from my walking companion that the female side was similarly well provided for.
No problem in making a donation in the box outside for the upkeep of these conveniences.
Well done to Llanfrynach.
Last Tuesday, 9 February, 53 Assembly Members voted in favour of a motion to trigger the referendum on further law making powers with no one voting against.
Most people would agree this can be regarded as a clear and unequivocal expression of the will of the National Assembly.
And yet, seven days later, Carwyn Jones still has not sent the letter to Peter Hain requesting him to draw up the Order to enable the referendum to go ahead.
Why is this? Could it be that Labour’s support for the referendum is less than fulsome?
Or is WAG short of typists?
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
I have been discussing with Darren Millar, the Shadow Minister for Local Government, the possibility of encouraging Mayoral elections in our large towns and cities in Wales. Notably Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham may wish to consider such a form of governance for their areas.
We are considering the possibility of lowering the threshold required in a referendum for example as a means of opening up the possibility. Where Mayors have been introduced elsewhere they have often been very effective and popular, and I am keen that we should investigate this possibility in Wales. It could open the way for a non-party political mayor with strong local support.
The only referendum that has occurred in Wales, of course, has been in my own area of Ceredigion which is a largely rural area and doesn’t really lend itself to the Mayoral system. The proposal in Ceredigion was roundly defeated; all four major parties in Wales being against the idea.
It may well be very different in our urban areas.
So it comes as no surprise that they should have tried to impose a "bin tax" on households of some £50 a year by inserting clauses in the Climate Change Bill.
Householders across Wales will be rightly concerned at the prospect of pay-as-you-throw bin taxes being forced upon them. Families are already paying more in council tax for local services without this threat hanging over them.
Councils in Wales face tough decisions over spending and could be tempted to use these new powers as a way to raise more money.
So far, no Council is prepared to pilot the scheme so let’s hope that remains the case as this proposal is clearly rubbish.
Forty Indian restaurants in and around the Swansea area are to raise cash for the Haiti Earthquake Appeal by donating half next Wednesday’s takings.
A similar event in Cardiff recently raised £25,000 for the Appeal and I am proud to say many members of my group took part.
This is an innovative and enjoyable way of raising much needed cash for a very worthwhile cause and I hope it is taken up by other towns and cities in Wales.
As the old saying goes, there are only two certainties in life—death and taxes, although you could probably add a third---Eleanor Burnham asking questions on train services in Wrexham.
Now it appears Gordon’s latest wheeze to fill the black hole in his budget is to combine the two and introduce a "death tax".
The rumour is Ministers are drawing up plans for a death tax of up to £20,000 per head which would be levied on the estate of the deceased. Gordon Brown refused to deny this when pressed by David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.
As a Conservative, I want to see people who work hard for themselves and their families rewarded by allowing their property to pass down the generations and not punished by taxes to pay for Labour’s incompetence.
This comes three months after households in England were able to benefit from a similar scheme.
Still, better late than never I suppose.
Moves to tackle fuel poverty in Wales are always welcome. Indeed, the Welsh Conservatives held a debate on the issue in the Assembly on 13 January this year to highlight the need to help people struggling to pay their fuel bills.
However, the eligibility criteria for the Welsh scheme are narrower than in England. On WAG’s own figures, between 240,000 and 250,000 households in Wales live in fuel poverty and yet this scheme will only help up to 5,000 households.
The Assembly Government needs to be bolder if it is to tackle fuel poverty in Wales.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Attention now is clearly turning to the Referendum date and, indeed, the question.
Today David Williamson has been emailing Assembly Members for their views. I think it is the unanimous view of my Group that this Referendum should be in October. I suppose there is a window of opportunity in late February/early March, but scarcely ideal.
The difficulty for scrutineers and returning officers, the difficulty for campaigners and, above all, the difficulty for the public in the confusion of two overlapping campaigns seem to me to rule out a date of May 2011 or anything close to it.
It is to be hoped that now the ‘Trigger’ request is in Peter Hain’s in-tray, that it is dealt with expeditiously and that if a general election and change of government intervenes, that this is passed to Cheryl Gillan as incoming Secretary of State who is then able to dispatch it to afford the opportunity of that October date.
This week I have done a piece for ITV, for Nick Speed in fact, about how important Mandarin is becoming in world affairs, in trade and diplomacy and as a world language.
It is being offered at one or two schools in Wales, I believe, Cathays High School for example. This is a welcome development.
My own ability in Chinese is limited to asking for milky tea in the canteen at Hong Kong University and wishing people Happy New Year. I wish I could do more.
In general, foreign languages have been in decline in Wales. Even relative to England our figures are unimpressive. This despite all the talk that learning two languages, English and Welsh (which I strongly support) is supposed to improve proficiency in languages. For too long we have rested on the laurels of English being an international language. Britain and Wales certainly need to up their game on the foreign languages stakes.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Although it is hoped that these job cuts can be obtained through natural wastage there is still the threat of compulsory redundancies.
Aberystwyth simply cannot afford to lose high quality jobs such as these at IBERS and I have tabled a series of questions today to the Minister, asking him to intervene and to make representations on behalf of those whose jobs are under threat.
A report published today by Consumer Focus Wales into the recent Post Office closure programme confirms what Welsh Conservatives have been saying all along- that the people hit hardest by post office closures are the most vulnerable sections of society.
In the eighteen month period since October 2007, 157 post offices were shut in Wales. Many of the communities that lost their post office are many miles away from the nearest Bank branch.
Pensioners, the infirm and mothers of young children who rely on the post office to access their benefits and other services have been seriously inconvenienced.
Many may not own a car and public transport is often infrequent or non-existent in rural areas.
It is high time the Government realised the important role that small post offices play in the life of our communities, and particularly our rural communities.
Sub-postmasters must be given greater freedom to run their own businesses and that means releasing them from their ties and allowing them to offer a broader range of services.
Monday, 1 February 2010
The subsequent loss of what was the safest of Democrat Senate seats seemed like the postscript that he could never write himself.
The impossibly high expectations of the American public of President Obama after his Presidential victory sent into the stratosphere by the Nobel laurel were bound to end in a corrective though perhaps not on this scale. Parallels are already being drawn with the mid term victories led by Newt Gingrich which did not stop President Clinton going on to a second Presidential victory two years later.
The Kennedy autobiography is a very good read particularly in setting out the campaigns he led in the Senate and his passions ( health care and civil rights among them ) -- some of them bi-partisan.
The Chappaquiddick explanation may not be totally convincing but the narrative of a life of campaigning for what he believed in is compelling.
That it should be the loss of his former seat that takes away the two thirds majority in the Senate and sends a shock wave into the Obama White House is ironic. That it imperils the health care reform that Ted Kennedy passionately believed in is deeply sad.
Saturday, 30 January 2010
I am saddened by more bad news on the jobs front in Powys, this time in Presteigne.
Car parts maker Kaye Presteigne has gone into administration and it is the main employer in the town.
This follows the announcement of job losses in Newtown by Shop Direct.
The scale of these closures is worrying as is their potential impact on the economies of both Newtown and Presteigne.
We must ensure that we help attract new businesses quickly to both these towns to support all the employees and their families at this time.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
However, the WRU should be above politics and its facilities should not be used to promote the narrow interests of the Labour Party. Rugby is something that unites the nation and this sort of action is totally inappropriate.
I know David Pickering has apologised for using the WRU’s email and I accept that.
But he and the WRU have some explaining to do as to why this was allowed to happen in the first place.
Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones, who were hosting the £1,000 a head dinner, should also apologise for their part in this saga.