Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Alcohol Concern

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

Ceredigion Planning

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.

Savings and the vulnerable

Pensioners who have invested to help fund their retirement and investors are prejudiced by the current economic situation more than most.

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.

Health Care in Mid and West WalesThere

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

Dangerous Dogs

The Kennel Club, an organisation that I have a great deal of time for, is wanting to strengthen the Dangerous Dogs Act. Laura Vallance has been in the Assembly to talk about it.

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.

Carwyn Dithers over Referendum Letter

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

Welsh Mayors

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.

Labour’s Rubbish Tax by Stealth

This shoddy Labour Government has form when it comes to introducing new taxes by stealth.
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.

Curry Houses Unite to Raise Cash for Haiti

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.

Life’s Certainties

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.

Two Cheers for Welsh Boiler Scrappage Scheme

Jane Davidson has today announced details of her boiler scrappage scheme in Wales. I raised the issue in the chamber of the National Assembly yesterday highlighting the delay in the announcement.

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

Referendum Date

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.

Mandarin in Welsh Schools

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

Jobs blow to Aberystwyth

I am concerned to hear that up to seventy jobs are under threat at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences in Aberystwyth.

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.

Vulnerable Hit Hardest by Post Office Closures

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

A Shudder in Massachusetts

I have just finished reading Ted Kennedy's autobiography, "True Compass".

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.