Thursday, 23 December 2010

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

St Cyngar, Llangefni - 1908

St Cyngar, Llangefni - this morning

Just over a hundred years ago -- on the 24th April, 1908 -- severe snowstorms swept across the country leaving carts abandoned in the streets, forcing the cancellation of sporting events, and bringing many parts of Ynys Môn to a standstill. According to a contemporary postcard from the island written the following day, "the snow was over our boot tops". The top image was taken of St Cyngar's church in Llangefni just after the snow had come down in 1908, the one below it was taken this morning -- proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same...

...on which thought I wish you and your families a peaceful and merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year in 2011. Nadolig Llawen i chi gyd a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

See you in January.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Travel Trouble Through The Tundra

With no sign of a thaw and predictions of more snow on its way, Ynys Môn is beginning to look like an arctic tundra. Although most trunk roads are open and ice-free, like many other people I have spoken to, I have had a few hairy moments on some B roads and in town centres. The exit from Llangefni's one-way street yesterday morning for example was something resembling an ice-rink. Pedestrians are also suffering due to icy pavements thanks to lack of surplus salt. Business leaders throughout Wales are complaining that access roads to business parks and industrial estates have not been gritted and that staff and deliveries just aren't able to get through. What effect this is having on Anglesey's struggling businesses -- at what should be their busiest time of the year -- is exceptionally worrying.

And it could be about to get worse as, according to WalesOnline, many Welsh councils now only have a few more days worth of salt left -- meaning that if more snow does come as predicted we could all find ourselves snowed-in. Apparently WAG is awaiting the import of 12,000 tonnes of extra salt "at the end of the month" -- which is still some time away. After all the chaos of last winter's salt and grit shortages -- and the ample warnings of another cold winter -- I would have hoped that the Welsh Assembly Government and Ieuan Wyn Jones as Transport Minister would have been better prepared this time.

I would be very interested in what experiences you have had trying to get around the island in the snow. Have you been able to get to work? Have you had trouble getting to shops? Any un-passable roads?

Friday, 17 December 2010

One step closer to Wylfa B?

The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, yesterday announced a number of proposals designed to make energy companies -- such as Horizon Nuclear Power, the joint venture behind Wylfa B -- more confident in investing in low-carbon energy ventures.

The proposals (in plain English) are four fold:

  • First, there will be a new and higher minimum price for carbon emissions from power generation (i.e. a 'carbon floor').
  • Second, those who invest in nuclear plants, wind farms and other forms of low-carbon energy will be guaranteed a price that yields them a profit.
  • Third, there will be additional payments to those who create reserve capacity in the energy system, to cope with surges in demand or unexpected cuts in supply.
  • Finally, there will be prohibitions on the construction of dirty power stations (notably coal).

These proposals have been welcomed by the French nuclear firm EDF, who I believe have been lobbying for a 'carbon floor' for some time. EDF have plans together with Centrica to build four new nuclear power plants in the UK. Hopefully Horizon will also react positively to these changes bringing Wylfa B yet one step closer.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Holyhead Coastguard to close

The UK Government today announced that the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Holyhead, better known as Holyhead Coastguard, will be closed in 2014/15 as part of a complete modernisation of the HM Coastguard service. You can read the full consultation document here.

I had written to the Secretary of State for Transport and stressed the important work carried out by the Holyhead Coastguard, along with the serious jobs situation in Anglesey and Holyhead in particular. While it is very saddening to learn that the station will close, I have been reassured that this change will not affect the front-line services carried out by volunteer Coastguards or the RNLI and that there will be no fall in the provision or standard of service to the North Wales coastline, which remains the most important factor.

The proposed closure of Holyhead Coastguard will not take place until 2014/15 and some staff will have the opportunity to transfer to better paid roles within the Coastguard. I will be making further representations to both the UK Government and to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to ensure that everything possible is done to help all the current staff. If you would like to speak to me in more detail regarding this announcement or the consultation into the modernisation of the HM Coastguard service, please get in touch via the 'contact me' section above.

UPDATE: Following careful consideration of the consultation documents I do not believe that the MCA have put forward a credible case for the closure of Holyhead Coastguard. Their proposals make no allowance for the Welsh language, no allowance for the difficulties non-Welsh speakers face understanding Welsh place names, and no allowance for Holyhead's proximity to the RAF's UK Search and Rescue Headquarters at RAF Valley. For these reasons I don't understand the MCA's logic in wanting to close Holyhead ahead of other stations for example.

I have now raised these concerns with Nick Bourne AM, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, and we agree that the emphasis absolutely must be put on safety and have decided to seek a meeting with the Minister responsible as soon as possible in order to put the case for retaining the Coastguard at Holyhead.

One Wales? or Three Wales?

How we are linked by human connections
as mapped by analysing phone-calls
Source: The Economist
Wales is not one country, but three different ones when looked at through the prism of human relationships, according to a fascinating article in this weeks Economist magazine.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have analysed 12 billion of phone calls within the UK in 2005 to find which regional clusters communicate with each other most and to see how they corresponds to the official administrative borders. The study's hypothesis in a nutshell is that the more and longer people in two locations talk on the phone, the more likely there are human connections binding those those places together into a cluster.

The results show that Scotland is the most cohesive region in the UK, with more than 75% of all calls originating in Scotland calling other parts of Scotland.

It is the results for Wales which are most fascinating to me -- showing that there are three distinct regions within Wales with only limited human interaction between North, South and large portions of mid Wales. North Wales in particular is much more linked in terms of human interaction with Liverpool, Manchester and the North West of England, with between 65-75% of all phonecalls originating in this area being to other places in North Wales and the North West.

What does this tell us?
GVA per head variation between regions. Following
Wales the North West is the next poorest.
Click to enlarge

  • It shows that North Wales's economy is inextricably linked to that of Liverpool, Manchester and North West England. This fact is reinforced when you look at the relative GVA per head figures between regions. After Wales (with Anglesey at the bottom) the next poorest region is the North West (with nearby Wirral at the bottom). For North Wales to grow, it is essential for the North West to also grow, therefore there should be much more communication and collaboration between WAG and the North West in terms of economic development.
  • In terms of tourism, it shows that the natural market to attract visitors is from the cities of Liverpool, Manchester and the North West. As there are already plentiful human relationships between us, strategically promoting Anglesey as a destination to these regions should be like pushing against an open door.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Llangefni Magistrates' Court to close, County Court repreived

The UK Government this afternoon announced the findings of HMCS's Court Estate Rationalisation programme. There is both good and bad news for Anglesey.

The bad news is that, following the recent consultation, Llangefni Magistrates' Court will be closed along with 12 others throughout Wales. The good news is that the Government has confirmed that the County Court in Llangefni has won a reprieve.

The closure of Llangefni Magistrates' Court will be implemented as part of a phased programme starting in April 2011. I am informed that it is hoped that staff will only be reduced by natural wastage, but voluntary redundancy packages will also apparently be considered. Cases that would previously have been heard at Llangefni will now in all likelihood be heard at either Holyhead or Caernarfon Magistrates' Courts.

Many of the courts which will close in Wales are quite old and not able to provide suitable facilities for victims or witnesses. These changes will mean that the money saved from closing under-used or not-fit-for-purpose courts will be able to be reinvested into modernising and improving other courts.

Even though I am very glad that the County Court in Llangefni has been reprieved, I am personally very saddened to see Llangefni's Magistrates' Court close -- I would have preferred if they could both have stayed open. However the rationalisation of the courts throughout the UK is part of a larger reform of the justice system which also includes sentencing and rehabilitation and changes to legal aid. If you are affected by these changes and would like to speak to me regarding them I am happy to meet with anyone at any time -- please get in touch using the 'Contact me' section above.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Parking and Collaboration

At Thursday's full council meeting, the proposal to convert several free council car parks into pay-and-display ones resulted in well over two hours of often heated debate. This followed the Executive's original proposals being 'called-in' to scrutiny in November and then sent to the Full Council on Thursday.

Petitions against the proposal, signed by over 3,000 islanders, were presented to the meeting and several councillors argued effectively against the changes, citing the effect parking charges have on local businesses - especially in our struggling town centres. The full Daily Post report on the meeting is here.

As a result of this backlash there will now be a complete review of the council's car parks policy in the New Year. I hope that the Executive will now take this opportunity to consider how it can adjust parking charges on all its sites so as to support local, town centre shops and businesses by making visiting them less inconvenient for potential shoppers. Shops in Holyhead and Llangefni in particular have suffered for many years due to:

  • the reduction of street-side parking places;
  • the inconvenience of having to pay to park in town centre car parks even for short periods; and 
  • the fact that supermarket car parks are large and free.

Indeed, to illustrate this point, just last year, Holyhead attracted considerable attention in the Daily Telegraph, the Mirror, the BBC, and other national media for having the most empty town centre shops in the United Kingdom. As pointed out above there are many reasons for this, but the Council has in its power one important lever: the ability to adjust car parking charges to make visiting Anglesey's town centres hasslefree.

Accordingly I would urge the Council to use the opportunity of a full review to adjust parking charges such that the first half- or full-hour was free (or just a nominal charge of 10p as in other places in North Wales). This would make visiting town centre businesses a far less troublesome experience for car users, would undoubtedly provide a boost for local shops, and would also demonstrate to Anglesey's small businesses that it is not "some kind of massive monster that just wants to fleece them" (in the words of Cllr Ken Hughes of Llanfaethlu) but a forward thinking and business-friendly organisation.

---------------------------------

In other non-Parking news, Thursday's Full Council meeting also unanimously voted in favour of Carl Sargeant's order suggestion that Anglesey County Council should collaborate more with Gwynedd Council in order to share resources and save costs. In response Aberffraw's Cllr Glyn Jones made the following pithy plea for more collaboration within the council itself too:

"We have just heard of the need to collaborate with other Authorities, let us start by collaborating here in this Chamber today. Let us make history today in this Chamber, let us put Anglesey in the Media with good news ... Let all 40 Members collaborate, let's form an Alliance of 40 Members to move this Council in the direction that the electorate of Anglesey expects and deserves of us."

Hear, hear.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

++ Ynys Môn still poorest place in UK ++

According to the latest GVA per head figures for 2008 released by the Office for National Statistics this morning, Anglesey is still the poorest locale in the whole United Kingdom:

Bottom five GVA per head 2008
click to enlarge

If we compare the bottom five for 2008 with those for 2007 the one bright spot is that at least Conwy and Denbighshire has managed move up and out.

Comparing the Bottom Five for 2007 and 2008
click to enlarge

Personally I'm not surprised to find Ynys Môn still stuck to the bottom of the prosperity league table. I don't know about you but I haven't detected a sense of urgency by the Welsh Assembly Government to tackle Anglesey's economic problems. Just last week we learned that Holyhead is the worst place in Wales to find a job with 7.4 benefit claimants for every advertised job. The latest official data regarding European convergence funding on Anglesey revealed how over three years only 102 new jobs have been created on the Island -- compared to a University of Wales estimate of 2,100 private sector jobs having been lost over roughly the same period. Similarly, the EU JEREMIE funding figures revealed that Anglesey-based companies had received less than 0.1 percent of the total spent in Wales. On top of that, Agriculture -- one of the Island's largest employers -- has been in decline for some time and likely to suffer further due to the expected abysmal uptake of the new WAG Glastir agri-environmental scheme. Do either our current AM or MP have a vision or a plan how to improve the situation...?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The good and the bad news...

I am so used to bearing bad news through this blog that it makes a welcome change to be able to be able to report some good news for a change -- particularly with regards to jobs and the Welsh economy. According to the latest quarterly Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, Welsh employers are finally looking to start hiring again after almost two years of negative intentions:

Employment Outlook for Wales
Click to enlarge

Not only that -- and this makes a big change -- Welsh employers are more confident about hiring than any other region in the UK bar the South West:

Regional comparison of Employment Outlooks in the UK
Click to enlarge

With the employers in the North West also buoyant about hiring let us hope that this trend also benefits Anglesey and North Wales.

However, predictably, any good news is bound to be leavened with bad news. And yesterday's announcement of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) Test results -- which compares 10,000 15-year-old students worldwide in reading, maths and science -- were seriously bad news for Wales. The results for Wales were the lowest in the United Kingdom and clearly shows that a considerable gap has opened up between the attainment of Welsh students and those from other regions in the UK, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland:

PISA Test Results - all ranks out of 67 countries
It is difficult to reconcile these results with the annual procession of ever better GCSE and A-level passes. For a small country on the periphery of the United Kingdom, education is the most important weapon in our armoury to continue creating better, well paying jobs in the future -- however these PISA results show that there are grave problems with the current Welsh education system. This is a subject to which I intend to return.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

From Aluminium to Data?

For Sale: the Anglesey Aluminium site in Penrhos,  Holyhead
If you have deep enough pockets, below you can find the sales prospectus for Anglesey Aluminum's Penrhos site near Holyhead. The total land comes to 33.5 Hectares (184 acres), with 114,781 sqm (1,235,500 sqft) of internal floorspace within the various buildings on the site. AAM will continue to operate a re-melt facility at the site on land rented back from the eventual purchaser. Furthermore, a portion of the land has been earmarked for a biomass plant pending planning permission. AAM have already commenced the decommissioning of the remainder of the site which will take up to 18 months to complete. According to the Daily Post, offers are expected in the region of £10m -- the equivalent of approx. £54K per acre.

Apparently the site has already attracted significant interest from energy and fabrication firms -- indeed, the sales prospectus confidently informs readers that "Expressions of Interest are to be submitted ... by 12.00 Noon on Monday 10th January 2011", in triplicate.

One of the most important aspects of the site's infrastructure is its direct 120MW connection to Wylfa nuclear power station. When operational, Anglesey Aluminium used to use up to 20% of the total electricity consumed daily in Wales. Accordingly possibly the most suitable use for the site would be for a business which requires both huge amounts of energy coupled with an uninterruptible connection to the grid. A regular commenter on this blog has suggested that a Data Centre could fit this bill.

The trend towards cloud computing means that Data Centres -- gigantic, secure facilities which house thousands of computer systems and servers -- are becoming more and more important. Indeed one such plant, the £200m Next Generation Data Centre, was recently completed with some WAG support on the site of an ex-LG factory in Newport, South Wales. As the AAM plant already enjoys a direct electricity supply from Wylfa, has potential access to the "fibrespeed" fibre-optic network already installed at the adjacent Parc Cybi, and access to sea water for cooling purposes, might a Data Centre not only be a suitable use for the site but also provide much needed skilled work in the region too?
Anglesey Aluminium For Sale

Saturday, 4 December 2010

WAG orders Anglesey and Gwynedd to collaborate

WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant has told Anglesey and Gwynedd councils to find ways of collaborating and sharing resources together in order to jointly deliver services and save money. If that sounds like a merger of the two councils, Carl Sargeant in a written statement (below) is at pains to point out that that is not the case, stressing the following points:

  • it is not about merging the two authorities;
  • it is not a "take over" by Gwynedd; 
  • and it is "not primarily a response to or a solution to Anglesey's [governance] problems." 

Its worth noting however that the use of the word 'primarily' does clearly indicate that WAG sees some form of greater collaboration with Gwynedd as a partial solution to Ynys Môn's issues. This is reinforced by this section of the statement: "if Anglesey’s members and officers show the leadership and commitment necessary to make it succeed, it will be powerful evidence of progress towards a sustainable recovery." Presumably the implicit message here is that not showing such "leadership and commitment" would indicate the opposite.

What will this mean in practice? Well, Carl Sargeant notes that Anglesey and Gwynedd already have a good record of working together, having operated a single education support service for many years and are currently also cooperating in developing a new joint Local Development Plan. However he wants both counties to go much further and look at "the full integration of major services" and "moving towards a shared senior management team". This means that in all probability there will be no direct successor to Anglesey's Interim MD, David Bowles -- the highest paid civil servant in Wales.  Instead it is now far more likely that Gwynedd Council chief executive, Harry Thomas, could become the joint head of both Councils. Furthermore in order to unlock the kind of savings which Sargeant is after, there would also presumably need to be further rationalisation of Service Heads between the two councils.

Councillors will not be effected -- Sargeant's statement says, "I have no wish to reduce democratic autonomy; I want to help safeguard essential services. If this programme is implemented, both councils would continue to exist as separate democratic entities. Councillors would have the same range of responsibilities as they do now, and would be accountable to local people in the same way."

The Leaders of Anglesey and Gwynedd councils, Clive McGregor and Dyfed Edwards, have already issued a joint statement indicating their "willingness to consider" moving forward, and a joint 'scoping study' will now take place to identify exactly what collaboration of services and senior management is possible. The results of this study will be reported back to WAG in February 2011.

Personally I am in favour of greater collaboration and greater sharing of resources between the two councils. It is clearly not acceptable for taxpayers in the UK's poorest locale to pay the wages of Wales's most expensive civil servant. However, as I have often argued in this blog, I would be against any kind of more wide-ranging merger of the two councils. It is imperative that Ynys Môn retains its separate identity as I don't believe that its quite specific needs and problems could be addressed as effectively by a larger, 'super-council'.

You can read the full statement by Carl Sargeant, and the terms of reference of the scoping report below.
Written Statement by the Welsh Assembly Government

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Helping Holyhead and Ynys Môn to create jobs

According to figures compiled by the GMB Union, Holyhead has the most jobseekers per vacancy in Wales. This month there are 781 unemployed claimants in Holyhead chasing just 105 unfilled job vacancies -- a ratio of 7.4 potential applicants per job. Bangor, Caernarfon and Llangefni are in 17th place, with 2,138 unemployed claimants chasing 1,077 job vacancies -- a ratio of 2 applicants per job.

Holyhead in particular was severely hit by the recession -- two of its largest employers, both of which had been operating in Holyhead for well over 35 years -- closed within three months of each other at the end of 2009:

  • Anglesey Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 450 jobs in September 2009
  • The Eaton Electric plant in Holyhead opened in 1960 under the name Midland Electric Manufacturing Company, it operated all through the 80s and 90s and closed in December 2009 with a loss of 250 jobs

Between them they directly accounted for 700 jobs, not including all the other jobs in small suppliers, support industries, and shops which depended on their trade.

Large companies like Anglesey Aluminium and Eaton Electric cannot be replaced overnight, and it is for that reason that the economic wellbeing of Holyhead and Anglesey must rest with its indigenous small businesses -- a point explicitly addressed in the People's Manifesto:

"the Council needs to recognise that the Island’s economic future rests on promoting and supporting multitudes of small businesses - not just one or two large employers. Accordingly the Council must: (a) avoid supporting developments which merely contribute to the cannibalisation of sales from existing small businesses and shops; (b) prioritise reducing the bureaucracy and costs involved in running small businesses on the Island; (c) provide meaningful and high-quality support to encourage both the growth of existing small businesses and the establishment of new ventures."

Not only does this make good common-sense, it is also backed up by research: for example studies show that nearly two-thirds of all net new jobs in the United States in 2007 were created by companies less than five years old. Therefore it is clear that a country such as Wales which suffers from an under-developed private sector should strategically focus on providing support to its small businesses as a way of growing the number of private sector jobs.

Unfortunately the economic development policies currently being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government -- Ieuan Wyn Jones's "Economic Renewal Programme" -- do the exact opposite: i.e. they support a few large employers in Wales at the expense of the multitudes of small businesses. It has done this by limiting the amount of economic support available and then restricted it only to companies operating in six "key sectors":

  • Creative industries
  • Information Communication Technologies
  • Energy and Environment
  • Advanced material and manufacturing
  • Life Sciences
  • Financial and Professional services

How were these sectors chosen? Nobody knows. The majority of companies operating in these sectors are not small companies. And most importantly to us, none of them (with the possible exception of energy companies) are well represented on Ynys Môn as is clear from the following breakdown of workplace employment sectors in Anglesey and North Wales:

In case you can't read the key: the sectors (left to right) are: Public Administration, education,
health and other services; Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing; Production; Construction;
Distribution, transport and communication; Finance and business services. (Source: WAG)

As you can see: Anglesey has a large distribution and transport sector thanks to Holyhead port, fair sized construction and production industries (although this data was collated before the closure of AAM and Eaton, etc.), and the largest proportion of people in North Wales working in areas related to agriculture and food production. None of these sectors are supported by the Economic Renewal Programme and therefore do not qualify for any support. Financial services are supported but, as you can see, Anglesey has the lowest proportion of these companies in the whole of North Wales.

As Anglesey has the highest proportion of people working in Agriculture sector in North Wales it is also important to note that there are severe problems here also. Single Farm payments are denominated in Euros, whose value is falling against sterling because of economic turmoil in Europe. Furthermore the current existing WAG agri-environmental schemes (Tir Gofal, Tir Mynydd, Tir Cynnal, and the Organic farming Scheme) are in the process of being phased out and replaced by the over complicated and widely derided Glastir scheme.  Indeed at a meeting I recently attended of the Anglesey Grassland Society, out of approximately 40 farmers present, only one said he was applying for Glastir. There is trouble ahead.

So what can be done to help the situation in Holyhead and the rest of Ynys Môn?

  • WAG needs to change its focus to supporting our small indigenous Welsh businesses. It can do this by reviewing the focus of the Economic Renewal Programme and also by reviewing Business Rates -- which are currently higher in Wales than anywhere else in the UK. (the Welsh Conservatives plan to take all small companies with a rateable value of less than £12,000 out of paying business rates all together).
  • More needs to be done to ensure that European funds like JEREMIE (of which Anglesey firms have so far only received 0.1% of the funds available in Wales) are better advertised and taken up by Anglesey companies.
  • Closer to home, Anglesey County Council needs to recognise the dangerous effect which expanding the number of pay and display car parks will have on struggling town centre businesses. Gwynedd Council has made all car parks free during the Xmas period to help their small businesses -- why can't we do the same here? I will be pushing the Council to reconsider parking charges entirely.
  • Noting the importance of Agricultural and food-based businesses in particular to Anglesey, WAG needs to consider the effectiveness of Glastir. Closer to home we need to look at how we can promote Anglesey produce better.
  • Tourism will become more and more important to the Island. I have already discussed here what can be done to help the industry on Anglesey.
  • And finally, Planning policies on the island needs to become more business friendly. Present policies are based on the adopted Ynys Môn Local Plan (1996) and the stopped Unitary Development Plan (2005) -- both of these documents are seriously outdated in all areas. Accordingly we need to ensure there is sufficient consultation into the new Local Development Plan (currently being jointly produced with Gwynedd Council) to make sure that planning represents Anglesey's modern needs.

If you have any more ideas or suggestions, please do let me know.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Anglesey Recovery Board - latest report to WAG

Below you can find the latest report by the Anglesey Recovery Board to the WAG Minster for Local Governmen, dated July 29th. A quick summary is set out below:

  • The political situation has stabilised following the formation of the Alliance, although the Board notes that, "the focus of the Council in the past two or three months has again been on member behaviour".
  • The Board further notes that, "it is becoming clear that that the naming of two councillors in the Alliance’s terms of engagement remains a significant issue of contention between the Alliance and the opposition" and goes on to "urge the Council to dispose of the two existing Ombudsman complaints as soon as possible. Then, all councillors could move on to addressing the very real problems that the island faces".
  • Discussing the decision to work on a joint Local Development Plan between Anglesey and Gwynedd, the Board hints that this may be the first of many similar collaborations with other Local Authorities: "We also believe strongly that there are a range of other opportunities for increasing the amount of joint working and collaboration between the authorities in line with developments elsewhere in North Wales ... In any case, developing these sort of arrangements will be an inevitable and essential part of the Council’s response to dealing with the service challenges resulting from fewer resources."
  • Bryan Owen, Leader of the Original Independents highlighted that, "opposition members were afraid to offer challenge in the Council chamber in fear of being regarded as undermining the work of the Council." In response the Board states that, "It should be made absolutely clear that offering constructive criticism is welcome and we would urge all members, inside and outside the Alliance, to act accordingly in the interests of maintaining an effective and well ordered democratic forum."
  • The report ends by noting, "despite some good work, it is still a time of considerable tension within the Council, exacerbated by the particular form of the terms of engagement."

You can read the whole report below and an archive of all the Recovery Board reports can be found here.
Anglesey Recover Board 7th Meeting

Monday, 29 November 2010

Making sure Ynys Môn benefits from the Royal tourism boost

Bring them home: the Llyn Cerrig Bach treasures represent
some of the finest Celtic Iron Age implements ever
found in Europe.  (Image: National Museum of Wales) 
As I'm sure all readers are aware, a certain Fl Lt Wales, a pilot based at RAF Valley, announced plans to marry long term girlfriend Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011. Following that they intend to continue living on the island until he completes his stint at Valley. Obviously this is fantastic news for Ynys Môn as it will likely result in a significant boost in the number tourists and visitors coming to the Island from all over the World. Accounting for approximately £215 million per annum, tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of the Anglesey economy and we have to make sure that we are able to use the Island's royal connections to our best advantage.

Anglesey has been blessed with fantastic scenery and views, over 120 miles of coastline, and some remarkable heritage sites -- however despite this it has long been apparent that the Island has punched below its weight in terms of attracting visitors. We now have a short window of opportunity whilst Prince William is on the island to try to address these issues, and below is a list of things I will personally be pushing for:

  • Anglesey County Council currently runs a number of visitor attractions on the Island, including the Holyhead Breakwater Country Park, Melin Llynnon, Beaumaris Gaol and Courthouse, Moelfre Seawatch Centre, and the South Stack Lighthouse. However, earlier this year the council announced plans to review whether it would continue to manage them citing, "the cost of running these sites is more than the income they generate". In my opinion, this is a very short sighted policy considering the expected Royal visitor boost over the next few years. The council is in danger of shooting the island's long-term economic development goals in the foot for the sake of short-term savings, and accordingly I believe the council should urgently review this policy.
  • One of the few things which most people know about Anglesey is that it was once the home of the mystical celtic priestly class, the Druids (real ones, not blogging impostors like me). When you consider this is the era of Harry Potter and magic, it has always seemed odd to me that there is not a single tourist attraction on Anglesey to celebrate and inform regarding this unique part of our history. To this end I intend to campaign for the permanent return of the Llyn Cerrig Bach treasures from the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and have them put on permanent display here in Anglesey.
  • Many visitors have told me that one of their frustrations about visiting Anglesey is that there is nowhere they can sit, for example, by the Menai Straits and have a good lunch or dinner whilst enjoying the incredible views. The scenery on Anglesey looking across to Snowdonia is one of our strongest selling points and we have to do more to allow restaurants and cafes to be built in places where tourists (and locals) would like to eat.
  • As an Island, Anglesey should be the natural home of water sports in North Wales. Rhosneigr has already enjoyed some considerable success as a surfing destination, but more needs to be done throughout the Island to promote other water sports such as yachting, canoeing, fishing and so on.
  • One of the 'big ideas' in the People's Manifesto was the creation of a unique, large-scale attraction (possibly at the council owned Rhosgoch site) which could be developed as a cross between a Centre Parc, the Eden Project, and the Coed Y Brenin mountain biking centre. The reasoning being that such an attraction would play to Anglesey's strengths (i.e. its suitability as a water sports venue, coupled with its proximity to walking opportunities in Snowdonia) and have the potential to attract visitors from Liverpool, Manchester, and the Midlands without cannibalising existing businesses in the way, for example, a retail park would. In our straightened times funding for such a venture will be limited, but I think the idea itself has great merit and should be investigated further.
  • Tranquility-seeking tourism is becoming a big market -- especially when linked with being able to see the night sky. Due to the huge amount of street lighting in most cities, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to enjoy starry nights. Anglesey should seek to control 'light pollution' so that our starry night sky also becomes another reason to visit Anglesey.
  • Finally, Anglesey needs to develop a short-term tourism strategy which recognises the opportunity of Prince William's presence and strategically promotes the island's unique features to those living within 2-3 hours drive.

If you have any more ideas, I would love to hear them.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Priced-out: The housing situation on Ynys Môn

I wrote on Wednesday regarding the demographic double-whammy facing Anglesey over the next 20 years, with the numbers of over 75s expected to almost double whilst simultaneously the number of younger people aged between 25-59 will reduce by 14 percent. There are many reasons for the outward migration of younger people from the island: most notably people leaving to either attend university or to find work (in my case, I did both). However, to my mind there is one other major reason forcing younger people to leave and that is the price of houses on the Island. According to the latest figures on the BBC website, the average house price on Anglesey during the period April-June 2010 was £171,075 -- thus making Anglesey homes more expensive on average than anywhere else in the whole of North Wales.

This is particularly significant when we compare this average house price with average earnings on the Island. Using the latest figures available (2009) the average gross weekly earnings on Anglesey was £492, or approximately £25,610 p.a. (please also note that these figures include the relatively higher wages paid by Anglesey Aluminium at the time, meaning that the actual average wage on the Island has probably slumped somewhat since 2009). This means that the average Anglesey home is almost 7x the average wage. When you consider that even at the height of the housing bubble banks were not offering mortgages even approaching 7x earnings, it makes it very clear how very difficult it is for younger Anglesey residents' to get on the first rung of the housing ladder, without first being able to build up a substantial deposit. To be fair, as the below chart shows the situation is similar across the whole of North Wales, with only Conway houses being more expensive relative to local wages. However, as absolute house prices on Anglesey are that much higher it is clear that it is a significant problem here on Anglesey.


For me this highlights just how important is the need for Anglesey County Council to speed up the completion of the Local Development Plan -- which it is now working on in conjunction with Gwynedd Council. Currently present policies are based on the adopted Ynys Môn Local Plan (1996) and the stopped Unitary Development Plan (2005) -- both of these documents are seriously outdated in all areas: industrial, commercial, and, as discussed above, most importantly in the field of housing and affordable housing. Without increasing the amount of housing available on the island we will continue to drive younger people over the bridge and therefore the Council must as a matter of urgency speed up the finalisation of its joint plan with Gwynedd.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Anglesey loses out in Council budget calculations

The Welsh Assembly Government yesterday announced the amount of funding it will award each local authority for 2011-2012. Anglesey County Council will see its budget reduced from £94.9 million this year to £93.3 million next year -- a reduction of £1.6 million and equivalent to -1.7 percent. The Welsh average is a reduction of just -1.4 percent meaning that Anglesey is among the 14 councils receiving the highest levels of cuts. You can see the settlements for all Welsh Local Authorities below (and more info here):


The amounts to be spent on Social Services and Education will be earmarked within each Local Authority's budget. As these two department's account for the lion's share of the total budget, by protecting them other departments will receive higher levels of cuts. It is unclear yet what implications this will have on next year's council tax -- which was already supposed to rising by up to 5 percent.

I am not surprised to see Ynys Môn once again receive one of the worst settlements from the Welsh Assembly. Last year, compared to an average Welsh rise of 2.1 percent, Anglesey County Council's allocation was increased by just 1 percent -- the joint lowest in Wales -- and we would have received even less had the Council not been able to negotiate a 'floor'. As the allocations are calculated mainly by population and not by need, Anglesey tends to lose out despite being officially the poorest place in the UK. Furthermore Anglesey is being hit by a double demographic whammy because we have a large and growing population of elderly people, who require far more care and resources, coupled with a net outward migration of younger people. In fact by 2031, the number of over 75s in Ynys Môn is expected to almost double whilst those between 25-59 years will decrease by 14 percent -- this will place a significant burden on Anglesey County Council's social services budget unless the Welsh Assembly addresses the way these grants are allocated.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Irish Bailout and Holyhead

The economic problems facing the Republic of Ireland are immense and especially worrying for us on Ynys Môn considering how much the Port of Holyhead relies upon a steady flow of people and cargo between us and the Irish ports of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire. Holyhead is in fact the busiest ferry port in Wales handling around 2.3 million passenger movements each year and sustaining approximately 900 jobs -- well over half of those with Stena, and the remainder with Irish Ferries, port service companies, and various other transport businesses. In 2009, according the latest figures available from the Department of Transport, Holyhead Port handled a total of 2.85 million tonnes -- the vast majority of it roll on/roll off. All of this injects much needed money in to Anglesey's fragile economy.

Of course Ireland is not just important to Holyhead and Anglesey, it is also one of the UK's largest trading partners. British exports to Ireland are three times British exports to China and five times the exports to India, furthermore Irish trade exceeds total UK trade with the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China put together. For these reasons I am pleased to see that the UK Government is prepared to help Eire and hope that this along with the IMF loans will help to buffer any possible knock-on effects on ferry traffic at Holyhead.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Ombudsman to review Holyhead Grants case

Last month I highlighted the case of Holyhead resident, Mr Gwynfor Pierce, who has long maintained to Anglesey County Council that there were serious irregularities in the handling of the Housing Renovation and Town Improvement Grants he received. After a three year battle the council earlier this year finally admitted that "...evidence exists that external parties have sought to defraud the council" and the case was submitted for further investigation to the council's external auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. You can read the full story here.

Last week came further good news: thanks to Mr Pierce's persistence coupled with strong support from North Wales regional AM, Mark Isherwood, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has now agreed to a full review of Mr Pierce's case. Lets now hope that these issues will be resolved once and for all.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Starting out...

I would like to thank everyone for their words of encouragement since becoming a candidate. The number of supportive comments and phone calls I have received over the past two days has been humbling. I am grateful to them all and I will endeavour to continue to do my best for Ynys Môn.

In the Daily Post article on my 'unmasking' yesterday, Albert Owen MP is quoted as saying that I have "hoodwinked" people into thinking I was a "caring voice". I suppose the inference is that a Conservative candidate could never truly be caring. I hope people will see his comments for what they are: silly and needlessly tribal.

The fact is this: writing this blog, like compiling the People's Manifesto, has been a labour of love for me. Whatever Albert Owen, or other over-excited blogs on the mainland might say, I doubt that anyone can question my commitment to this Island and my desire to find practical solutions to its problems. I hope that I will now be able to use whatever extra influence I have as a candidate in next year's Assembly elections to further much needed change on Ynys Môn.

Finally, as Albert Owen accuses me of having "hoodwinked" people, let me remind him of some of his utterances over the past year:

  • In January, Albert wrote this in the letters page of the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail: "David Cameron’s closest energy advisor Zac Goldsmith clearly states that if the party sticks to its existing policy it would never allow the building of a new nuclear power station. Well that rules out Wylfa B under the Tories". What Albert failed to mention was that both Labour and Conservative policy regarding nuclear was identical: supportive as long as there were no subsidies. Anyway within four months of the coalition government taking power Wylfa was indeed granted preferred nuclear build status, thus providing government support for Horizon to proceed.
  • In April, Albert wrote on his election leaflets that he had "delivered to: secure new investment (£635 million) in RAF Valley by creating new jobs now and for the future in fast jet training and the Search and Rescue HQ". I revealed on this blog that the £635 million figure was the entire budget, spread across 25 years, for running the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) across a number of air bases in the UK -- not just for RAF Valley. The press picked up my post and Albert defended himself by merely insisting, "I am comfortable with using this figure". Says it all.
  • Albert Owen has been most creative when seeking to find something to blame other than his own Party's policies for the catastrophic closure of Anglesey Aluminium and the loss of 450 jobs. In March he claimed it was down to "Tory hypocrisy", by September it was the fault of the company itself. The real reasons behind Anglesey Aluminium's closure are: (a) EU law which prevents government subsidy of business -- this required Wylfa to stop its cut-price supply of electricity to AAM after being acquired by the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency; (b) Peter Mandelson's removal of import tariffs on Russian aluminium; and (c) the Labour government's pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 which makes all primary metallurgical industries increasingly unviable in the UK.
  • As it reflects badly on him and 13 years of his government, Albert has repeatedly tried to deny that Ynys Môn is the poorest locale in the UK. This is despite the Office for National Statistics releasing data which proves that it clearly is

I could go on, but I think the above is sufficient. I am not trying to make a partisan point here -- politicians from all parties tend to be economical with the truth. However the problem I have with Albert's frequent 'distortions' is that they do not help us find solutions for our exceptional problems on Ynys Môn. Unless we accurately identify our problems, and their real causes, then we will never find workable solutions for them. And from now on, as a candidate, thats exactly what I intend to do.

P.S. I wrote yesterday about Ieuan Wyn Jones's lack of engagement with his own constituency. As if to prove my point yesterday's Daily Post article reported that, "Anglesey AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, was unavailable for comment".

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Druid Revealed

As ‘The Druid’ I have been commenting on the current affairs and politics of Anglesey since January this year when I set up this blog. I decided to start writing because it was plain to see that Ynys Môn was in decline: both economically and politically. Companies like Anglesey Aluminium, Eaton Electric, Menai Electrical, Peboc, and so on which had been operating on Ynys Môn for a generation were closing. On the other hand, Anglesey County Council had just been slammed by the Welsh Audit Office for a total breakdown in communications between councillors and officers, and then effectively taken into special measures by the Assembly Government. I didn’t want to just sit idly by so I started writing -- and for whatever reason it seems that what I wrote somehow struck a chord with other Ynys Môn residents. Before long the blog went from having zero comments, to perhaps one or two per post, to suddenly hundreds and hundreds of comments daily. It was an overwhelming experience, but it also proved to me -- and everyone else -- that there were literally hundreds of other Anglesey residents who were just as dismayed as I was with what was happening to our Island.

Of course not everyone agreed with my analyses and prescriptions, but everyone was happy to engage in mostly good humoured debates about topical issues concerning our Island. And, most importantly, people didn’t want to just criticise, they also wanted to propose solutions. Readers submitted intelligent and well thought out ideas in their hundreds to improve the Island, and it was these which ended up forming the core of the crowd-sourced ‘People’s Manifesto for Ynys Môn’ -- a labour of love for many of us. I can honestly say that my proudest moment since setting up ‘The Druid’ was not the day it was named as ‘Best Political Blog’ at the Wales Blog Awards, but the day I emailed the People’s Manifesto to Ieuan Wyn Jones, Albert Owen, and our 40 county councillors.

In addition to the People’s Manifesto there have also been a number of other key moments, and here is just a flavour:


...and many more.

You might wonder why there are two Albert Owen stories above, but none about Ieuan Wyn Jones? The reason is this: for whatever his faults Albert is at least committed to Anglesey and engages with residents openly and quickly. Indeed when I sent out the People’s Manifesto, the very first reply I received was from Albert. In contrast I never heard anything back from Ieuan Wyn Jones -- and this is also true whenever I have looked to write about him on this blog: there’s literally nothing to write because his engagement with his own constituency is so slight. And that is not just my opinion -- I have now heard the same sentiments repeated to me by many, many Islanders. As we all know, Ieuan Wyn currently has four jobs:

  • Deputy First Minister,
  • Minister for Economy and Transport
  • Leader of Plaid Cymru, and
  • AM for Ynys Môn

There is no doubt in my mind that he prioritises his attention and energies on his ministerial and Plaid Cymru responsibilities at the expense of his most important job: being our AM. As officially the poorest place in the UK, I believe that Ynys Môn can no longer afford the luxury of an AM who's first priority is not looking after his own constituency.

Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time will know that my political views are quite clearly conservative - something I have never tried to hide. Accordingly, and after a great deal of thought, I decided that I would put myself forward for selection as the Conservative candidate for next May’s Assembly elections -- not because I particularly want to be a politician, but because I have a passion for my home Island and want to do something to help halt the decline. I’m happy to announce that last night I was selected as the Welsh Conservative candidate for Ynys Môn and will take on Ieuan Wyn Jones in next year’s Welsh Assembly elections.

Paul Williams
a.k.a. "The Druid"
Therefore it is now time to cast aside my cloak and reveal my identity. My name is Paul Williams and I was born, brought up, and educated on Ynys Môn. My family have farmed the Island for centuries and I spent my younger life on the family farm just outside Llangefni (before we converted it into the very successful Tafarn Y Rhos pub). I attended Ysgol Gyfun Llangefni and my first paid job was in the Welsh Country Foods abattoir in Gaerwen. Like many of my peers I left Anglesey to attend University and picked up two degrees including a Masters in Japanese, which I now speak fluently. I went on to have considerable international business experience: I spent six years working in Tokyo, Japan, and a further six years in Frankfurt, Germany, where I was appointed to a very senior European marketing position for one of the World’s largest consumer electronics firms. I also however have experience of business on a smaller scale: three years ago, just before the credit crunch, I decided to set up my own small consultancy firm and therefore weathered the storm of the recession as a small businessman and learned intimately the problems and pressures facing small businesses all over the UK but particularly here in Anglesey. I currently live in Rhostrehwfa with my longterm girlfriend.

As the Welsh Conservative candidate, in addition to being guided by the People's Manifesto, I will be focussing on the following key points:

  • championing a private sector led economic recovery on Anglesey. Over a relatively short period of time Ynys Môn has seen the closure of several of its largest firms and the loss of over 2,100 private-sector jobs, according to a study by the University of Wales. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the biggest job-creators in our economy, yet Ieuan Wyn Jones’s Economic Renewal Programme has slashed the amount of support available to these smaller firms. I will champion and support our SMEs to set-up and expand by recognising the value of these embryonic companies and their potential to grow and create employment.
  • Support a smarter ‘Energy Island’ concept. I will provide full and unequivocal support for the development of Wylfa B. However for the ‘Energy Island’ concept to fully benefit Anglesey we need to be more than just a ‘site’ for nuclear reactors and water turbines. As such I will champion the creation of an Energy Technology Park on the Island and ensure that the skilled workforce needed for the power station and its construction are sourced locally.
  • Support the recovery of Anglesey County Council. The political problems at Anglesey County Council have created an environment of instability and indecision which is not conducive for business investment or development – particularly due to the absence of a clear planning policy framework.
  • Champion Agriculture and Tourism on Ynys Môn. Between 1997 and 2007, the economic contribution of agriculture to the North Wales economy fell by 67 percent, compared to an overall UK decline of just 7 percent. Equally, in terms of tourism, Anglesey does not suffer from a dearth of places to visit, it suffers from a lack of imagination in marketing itself. I will champion and support both agriculture and tourism on Ynys Môn.
  • Defend Anglesey from disproportionate cuts. I recognise the need for the government to reduce the structural deficit, however I will defend Anglesey from any disproportionate or unfair cuts to policing, health, education and other frontline public services.
  • To be a dedicated AM for Ynys Môn. It is clear that the Ieuan Wyn Jones’s Leadership of Plaid Cymru and ministerial duties are compromising his ability to give Anglesey residents a much needed and dedicated voice in Cardiff Bay. I pledge to be an excellent and dedicated AM for Ynys Môn.

As for this blog: it will continue. As far as I am concerned nothing has changed -- I am still the same person I was before becoming a candidate -- and I will continue to write about matters which effect both Ynys Môn and Wales as a whole. Like you I want to see what's best for this Island.

Paul Williams / The Druid

P.S. Some of you may have noticed that someone called Alwyn Rowlands, apparently the Chair of the Anglesey Labour Party, has recently taken to writing angry letters to the Daily Post and Anglesey & Holyhead Mail demanding that "if [the Druid] wants to become involved in politics, then come out and debate it out in the open with the rest of us". Well, Alwyn, here I am.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Old versus New in Rhosneigr

The Rhosneigr ward by-election forced by the standing down of ex-Council Leader Phil Fowlie will be held on Thursday this week.

There are two candidates standing -- regular readers will know that one of them, Martin Peet, has taken the opportunity to publicise his mini-manifesto on this site and, admirably, engage openly in discussion with commenters regarding his position on various issues. The other candidate failed to respond to an invitation from me to similarly publicise his manifesto aims on this site.

Martin Peet has openly declared that he is opposed to the recently announced plans to convert the currently free Rhosneigr Library car park into a pay-and-display site due to the detrimental effects it will have on library usage and on local Rhosneigr shops. He has also started a petition to allow Rhosneigr residents to register their disapproval. Furthermore, if elected, Martin Peet is pledged to join the Conservatives in Phil Fowlie's Original Independants group -- which is opposed to the parking changes. On the other hand his opponent has not opposed the parking charges in Rhosneigr and, if elected, plans to join the ruling coalition who have tried to impose these ridiculous parking changes without a proper debate or consultation.

Can there be a better symbol of new politics versus old politics? Martin Peet is embodying the type of open, transparent politics which this blog has long advocated and called for through the People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn. Phil Fowlie did a lot of good for Anglesey during his tenure as a councillor and Leader; it seems to me that it is abundantly clear who is his true heir in Rhosneigr.


UPDATE: The final result was as follows:

Richard Dew    319 votes
Martin Peet        58 votes

As far as I am concerned Mr Peet put up an admirable fight -- and was 100% transparent about the policies he would like to pursue and which council grouping he intended to join if elected. However Mr Dew is obviously well liked and respected in Rhosneigr and I wish him all the best -- but I still wish that the Rhosneigr by-election could have been a sea-change in Anglesey politics, with both parties transparently engaging in a battle of ideas.

++ Parking Decision - deferred to Full Council ++

Good news for Anglesey's beleaguered small towncentre shops and businesses -- following Cllr Bryan Owen's swift action in 'calling-in' the controversial parking changes on Anglesey, the Scrutiny Committee has this morning resolved to send the Pay-and-Display decision to debate and vote at the next meeting of the Full Council.

The ruling Plaid Cymru/Labour coalition tried to impose these new parking fees without consultation and 'under the radar' -- however if they now want to drive it through they will have to vote for it openly in the Council Chamber on December 9th. You can be sure that this blog will record exactly how each councillor decides to vote.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Parking Madness: A Question of priorities... (Update)

Its already widely known that Bryan Owen, leader of the Original Independents and county councillor for the Llangefni Tudur ward, has "called in" for further scrutiny the controversial parking changes in an attempt to stop them. He deserves great praise for leading the fight for common sense and for Anglesey's small businesses.

However the Druid is somewhat surprised that nothing so far has been heard from the member of the ruling group who also happens to chair the Anglesey chapter of the Federation of Small Businesses. I can't imagine that the FSB is in favour of these parking changes which will hit Anglesey's already struggling small retailers particularly hard. I would appeal to that councillor to put the interests of the small businesses he represents above those of the ruling coalition of which he is a part. This policy is seriously flawed and needs to be stopped before further damage is wantonly inflicted on Anglesey's town centre shops and businesses.

UPDATE 16 Nov: The councillor alluded to above, Cllr Selwyn Williams, did indeed speak out against the pay-and-display changes today and voted to send the decision to the Full Council. Well done him.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Pay and Display Madness (updated)

Please,  no more.
On the very same day that Gwynedd County Council announced that they would make all council car parks free during the Christmas period to help local businesses, Anglesey County Council decided to instead announce that the following free car parks will henceforth become pay and display sites:

  • Village car park, Cemaes
  • Library car park, Benllech
  • The Square car park, Benllech
  • Stanley Crescent car park, Holyhead 
  • Railway Stores car park, Llangefni (short stay)
  • Library car park, Rhosneigr (seasonal)
  • Church Bay car park (seasonal)
  • Beach car park, Rhoscolyn (seasonal)

Why? Apparently so as to provide a consistent policy throughout the island. Currently some towns and villages have pay and display car parks and some don't -- therefore the Council has decided that all locales must suffer equally.

According to council documents these new car parks will generate approximately £30,000 a year in income -- the same documents do not detail how much these changes might translate into loss of income for local businesses. I also note that there is no mention of such a policy in the ruling coalition's recently released "manifesto".

As far as I am concerned this is sheer madness. Anglesey is on its knees following the closure of many of its largest employers and the loss of over 2,100 private sector jobs in a very short period of time. Our town centres are already struggling because of the increase in out-of-town and edge-of-town supermarkets and the general inconvenience of parking. The Council should be doing everything in its power to protect and promote Anglesey's existing small businesses, not adding to their problems for the sake of a paltry £30,000 a year in extra income -- income which would probably otherwise found its way to the very same small retailers which will now suffer from these new paid car-parks. Unlike Gwynedd County Council, Anglesey Council doesn't seem to realise that the best way to sustainably increase their own income over the long-term is to support healthy and thriving local businesses. Madness.

You can see the council documents below: IoACC Car Parking documents

UPDATE:  In a bid to help the council identify savings which would allow the currently free car parks to remain free car parks, Cllr Durkin has now officially called on Anglesey County Council to cut councillors allowanced by half in order to save £360K per annum:
B Durkin press release

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Adam Price is right -- and I can prove it.

As far as I'm concerned Adam Price, the ex-Plaid Cymru MP and leadership contender, hit the nail squarely on the head when he told a BBC Wales programme yesterday that:

"a lack of skills amongst [Welsh Assembly] politicians is making it difficult to tackle big economic challenges".

He also went on to say:

"The gap between the problems we face in Wales and the skill-set of the people we're drawing in to politics is huge".

I couldn't agree more. In our current straightened times all politics is economics -- and accordingly we need politicians with some understanding of where wealth comes from, how to use it wisely, and, most importantly, and how to invest in skills, infrastructure, and business so as to generate more of it. Unfortunately the vast majority of our current Assembly Members are drawn exclusively from the public sector and have never had to create any wealth themselves. (Please note that I am not attacking civil servants, I am just saying that they are vastly over-represented as a group thus depriving the Assembly of other equally valuable life experiences and outlooks).

Don't believe me? Take a look at the below 'Druid Research Centre' analysis of the backgrounds of all 60 of our Assembly Members to see what life and work experience they had before becoming full-time politicians. Here are the results for the ruling coalition of Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly Members:

Welsh Assembly Ruling Coalition AMs - Click to enlarge

Of 39 Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs, only 10 percent of them have ever had any private sector business experience. The overwhelming majority (62 percent) have worked in the public sector all their lives with the remainder coming from voluntary-sector, law, religion, media and politics backgrounds. When looked at through the lens of wealth creation - a staggering 87 percent of the Labour / Plaid coalition have never had a wealth-creating job (the Druid is using Adam Smith's definition of 'wealth creation' whereby materials, labour, land, and technology are combined in such a way as to capture a profit, i.e. excess above the cost of production). Is it really any surprise that Economic Development polices in Wales are not working when only a very tiny fraction of the government have ever had any wealth creating experience themselves? 

Here are the breakdowns by party:

LABOUR

Labour AMs - click to enlarge

PLAID CYMRU

Plaid Cymru AMs - click to enlarge

CONSERVATIVES

Conservative AMs - click to enlarge

LIB DEMS

Lib Dem AMs - click to enlarge

The Lib Dems are frankly the worse of a very bad bunch - not a single Lib Dem AM has ever been anywhere near a business, comprised as they are of four ex-teachers and two ex-civil servants. But at least they are not in power - coalition partner Plaid Cymru on the other hand is almost equally bad with just one AM (Alun Ffred Jones) ever having had any wealth creating experience. 

It is imperative for a country like Wales, struggling as it is with high unemployment and a dwindling industrial- and business-base, to have more private-sector and wealth creating experience in its national legislature. However as Adam Price correctly identifies, Welsh parties are drawing politicians "from a vanishingly small gene-pool" and really need to look deeply at themselves and ask why it is that they are attracting so few people from business backgrounds when there is such an obvious need for their skills and experience.

The Outer Hebrides outgrow Anglesey

Dylan Jones-Evans, Professor and Director of Enterprise and Innovation at the University of Wales, today continues his excellent and insightful investigation into the situation of Anglesey by taking a look at how the ten poorest areas in the UK (as measured by GVA per head) have performed relative to each other since 2001. The results can be seen in the below chart:

Relative GVA per head compared to UK Average for the UK's 10 poorest regions

As you can see, some regions have shown tremendous growth over the past seven years, whereas places like Anglesey, the valleys of South Wales, and Conway & Denbighshire have either continued to decline or stagnated. It is also worth noting that these figures presumably include the output from Anglesey Aluminium and other recently closed companies, making it certain that Anglesey's current GVA per head is even lower than shown here.

However what really stands out to me is how the Western Isles (also known as the Outer Hebrides) have transformed their position from second from the bottom to joint top over a period of just ten years. When we look at the map plotting the location of these ten poorest parts of the UK, we can see just how remarkable the performances of the Western Isles and of Caithness and Sutherland, and Ross Cromarty (i.e. the North East top of Scotland) in particular have been:

Location of the top 10 poorest regions in the UK

So, as you can see without (a) the benefit of an A55 linking it directly to the industrial cities of the Midlands; (b) a major port linking it to the capital of Ireland, or (c) even a bridge connecting it to the rest of the mainland, the Western Isles have managed to not only economically outperform us in Anglesey, but have also grown dramatically too. This map also makes it clear that simply blaming the peripheral location of Anglesey as the cause of all our problems is not enough -- most of the bottom ten regions are in relatively remote locations, yet the two most remote regions (Western Isles and the North East tip of Scotland) have somehow found a way to grow. 

To me this indicates that, all other things being equal, there must be something fundamentally wrong with the Economic Development policies being followed by successive governments in Westminster, and in particular by the Welsh Assembly Government which need to be put right as soon as possible.