Tuesday, 31 August 2010

N..n..n..nineteen: Thank you all

Total Politics have just announced this year's list of the Top 50 Welsh Blogs and, despite having only penned my first blogpost back in January this year, I'm delighted to have been placed 19th. Without wishing to sound like an Oscar's acceptance speech, I'd like to give a big thank you to everyone who voted and to all of you readers and commenters: this blog wouldn't be what it is without the fantastic and informed debates we have in comments. My mission in writing this blog has always been to bring our unique Island shenanigans to a wider audience 'pour encourager les autres', so to be placed in the Top 20 proves that people throughout Wales are now sitting up and taking notice of what's going on in Ynys Môn. Good news for us all.              

There are some surprising rankings though. My two favourite bloggers: the thoughtful and well informed Dylan Jones-Evans and John Dixon ('Borthlas') came in at just 34th and 35th respectively - a travesty surely. 'A Change of Personnel' and 'Valleys Mam' also deserve to be higher placed and more widely read.  On the other hand, congratulations to my old sparring partner, Blog Menai, on coming top. 

Anyway here's the Total Politics Top 50 for your perusal:

1 (3) Blog Menai
2 (10)
 Plaid Wrecsam 
3 (6) 
4 (14) 
Hen Rech Flin
5 (7) 
Vaughan Roderick
6 (12) 
Miserable Old Fart
7 (11) 
Cardiff Blogger
8 (26) 
Betsan Powys
9 (16) 
Peter Black AM
Everyone's Favourite Comrade
Blog Guto Dafyyd
12 (12) 
13 (41) 
Wales Home
14 (5) 
Welsh Ramblings
15 (35) 
Freedom Central
16 (18) 
Bethan Jenkins AM
Ffranc Sais
Dib Lemming
The Druid of Anglesey
20 (13) 
Valleys Mam
21 (36) 
Blog yr Hogyn o Rachub
22 (23) 
Glyn Davies MP
Plaid Panteg
24 (15) 
Polemical Report
25 (49) 
A Change of Personnel
26 (24) 
Leanne Wood AM
27 (20) 
Politics Cymru
28 (42) 
Blog Answyddogol
Liberal Smithy
Inside Out - A Jaxxland Perspective
31 (45) 
Alun Williams
32 (28) 
Gwilym Euros Roberts
Institute of Welsh Affairs
34 (29) 
Dylan Jones-Evans
35 (22) 
36 (30) 
Paul Flynn MP
37 (27) 
David Cornock
Red Anorak
Mike Priestley
41 (44) 
07.25 to Paddington
Blog Golwg
Plaid Cymru Llundain
44 (53) 
Rene Kinzett
45 (32) 
This is My Truth
46 (46) 
Independence Cymru
Grangetown Jack
Blog Rhys Llwyd
50 (8) 
Cambria Politico

Dros y Bont

Heading dros y bont again for a few days so blogging will be light...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Hanes Môn: Anglesey during WW2

In today's Hanes Môn we'll take a look at some of the fascinating stories about Anglesey during the Second World War. All the information here us drawn from the excellently researched "An Island At War: Anglesey 1939-1945" by Geraint Jones.

  • During the early days of the War, over 2,500 primary school evacuees, mostly from Liverpool and Manchester, arrived on Anglesey to escape any bombing of their home cities. In fact there was so many of them that Anglesey's schools had to operate a double-shift system of educating local children in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon. However there was still not enough room in the schools for all of them so many of the evacuees had to be educated in temporary premises like chapels - causing more than a few problems for Catholic children. When requests were made to use three Welsh Nonconformist chapels in Holyhead to educate these children, the Holyhead Free Church Council agreed only on the condition that "no teaching of a Roman Catholic nature can be allowed in them". Despite all this it appears that the Anglesey people made a good impression on the youngsters and one evacuee, called B. Lake, was reported as having told the local newspaper: "we have made a thorough revision of our view on the Welsh people, totally in their favour, although we still fail to be convinced of the merits of Lloyd George and the Liberals".
  • At outbreak of the war only five of the Island's villages had mains water and the rest of Anglesey still relied on carrying water from wells. However as the population on Anglesey expanded rapidly with evacuees and military personnel, the sources of water on the Island started to become insufficient forcing authorities to lay a pipe across the Menai Suspension Bridge to carry water from Bangor to Menai Bridge.  Incidentally, both bridges were routinely guarded during the War by military detachments and police to watch out for saboteurs who might try to blow them up.
  • In May 1940, the Holyhead Free Church Council sent a letter to every chapel in the town expressing concern about "moral sicknesses" in the town and claiming there were houses in Holyhead where "terrible sins are committed". The Free Church Council apparently claimed that some Holyhead girls and their families were to blame. The same Free Church Council also tried to prevent the showing of films in Holyhead on Sundays.
  • Holyhead received the brunt of "enemy action" during the War, suffering from nine ariel bombings and two incidents of machine gun strafing from passing aircraft - although fortunately nobody was killed in any of these incidents. It wasn't only Holyhead: Llanfachtraeth, Llanfair PG and some poor, unassuming greenhouses in Pentre Berw were also struck by bosch bombs during the early years of the War. Furthermore Anglesey wasn't only attacked from the air, several boats were sunk by German mines just beyond the Holyhead breakwater. German U-boats were active in Irish sea attacking ships sailing between Holyhead and Dublin, and another ship was torpedoed by a U-boat just off Bardsey Island on the Llyn Peninsular.
  • A 'War Weapons Week' to raise money to buy equipment for the military was held in Holyhead in December 1940, raising £90,261 - the equivalent of several million pounds at today's values. Apparently the people of Holyhead saw themselves in competition with the people of Conwy for some reason and wanted to raise a larger sum (which they did).
  • RAF Valley, built early during the War, was originally designated "RAF Rhosneigr", but was later changed to its present name as "Rhosneigr" was thought too difficult for incomers to pronounce. Indeed there appears to have been some friction between the Islanders and incomers over place names, with one writer to a local paper complaining that "they regard their persistent mispronunciations as humorous rather than discourteous". Though to be fair, I'm not sure how well we would be able to pronounce many Beligan, Polish and Czech place names - where many of the pilots stationed at Valley came from. Interestingly to protect RAF Valley a 'decoy' airfield was built on a section of sand dunes near Newborough and lit up at night time to trick the enemy. No enemy aircraft ever attacked the site, but in 1942 a Briston Beaufighter mistakenly tried to land there on a cloudy night, killing both crewmen. When the runways at RAF Valley were being extended in 1942 to accommodate the massive American 'Flying Fortress' bombers, the Llyn Cerrig Bach Iron Age treasures were found.
  • A Supermarine Spitfire, which had developed a fault, crashed into Gwalia Stores in the centre of Beaumaris in March 1941. Nobody was killed. In Novermber 1941 a German Heinkel bomber was shot down by an Australian pilot from RAF Valley and it crashed in field near Bodffordd - attracting huge crowds of onlookers. It was never reported in the press though as it was thought that news of enemy aircraft in Anglesey airspace would cause worry.
  • In October 1941 the Chronicle reported that a semi-concious man had been found in a wooden crate shipped to Dublin from Holyhead. It transpired that the man was a well known French painter and a former member of the French Air Force. Strangely no further news was ever recorded about the man or how he had got there.
  • Disturbingly in January 1942 a letter from the RSPCA in the local press informed the public that cats were being stolen for their fur. Owners were urged to keep their cats indoors at night.
  • Anglesey's War Agricultural ("War Ag") Committee issued farmers with quotas for the food they were to produce and penalties for failing to comply were severe. In fact in 1942 a Brynsiencyn farmer was fined £130 for failing to produce enough.
  • On 19 July 1943 a Vickers Wellington bomber on training exercise over Anglesey suffered failure of both engines prompting the crew to bail out. The aircraft crashed into a field not far from Llanddeusant. It burst into flames and then ploughed through a hedge and onto a country road were it crashed into a car carrying a doctor accompanied by his wife and mother-in-law. Distressingly the inquest included testimony from a woman who had seen the doctor with his clothes on fire pleading with her to help him look for his wife. Sadly both women were dead at the scene of the crash and the doctor died in hospital the next day.
  • In September 1944 the Chronicle reported that Cpl Idris Jones from Menai Bridge who served with the RAF in North Africa had met a Welsh-speaking Arab. In the same month Holyhead Town Council paid tribute to the gallantry of Jack Everett, who had escaped a Prisoner of War camp in Italy and rejoined his unit.
  • The Crosville Motor Company finally started using double-decker buses on the Bangor-Llangefni-Holyhead route in April 1945. This was made possible by the strengthening of the Menai Suspension Bridge in 1941. Previously the normal practice had been for passengers to get off the bus which would cross the bridge empty and then wait for the passengers to walk over to the other side.
  • On 5 July 1945 the General Election was held. In Anglesey there were only two candidates: Megan Lloyd George (Liberal) and 28 year old Flying Officer stationed at RAF Valley called Cledwyn Hughes (Labour). Lloyd George beat Hughes by just over a 1,000 votes.

This is just a small selection of the information and anecdotes contained in "An Island at War" by Geraint Jones - a really fascinating read. If this has piqued your interest, the book is available in Anglesey libraries and to buy in Oriel Môn (for the avoidance of doubt I am in no way connected to Mr Jones).

Friday, 27 August 2010

North Wales Voting Intention Poll Update

Below is the updated North Wales voting intention poll updated with the latest ITV Wales/YouGov figures:

Click to enlarge
The number of North Wales residents planning to vote for Plaid Cymru has been gradually rising since May and the 26% figure is the highest I've seen since I started to keep an aggregate of North Wales polls.  Reflecting the national trend, the Lib Dems have now dipped to 9%, the lowest figure for them we have seen.

In terms of more powers for the Welsh Assembly, interestingly North Wales is still the Welsh region most opposed to further powers for the Welsh Assembly with 39% intending to vote against and 44% for in next year's referendum.

You can see the results in detail here (pdf).

Thursday, 26 August 2010

++ Murdered MI6 Agent from Anglesey ++

The BBC are reporting that the MI6 worker who has been discovered murdered in his Pimlico flat was from Anglesey. He has been identified as Gareth Williams (30) from Holyhead. He was apparently on secondment to MI6 from his job as a communications officer at CCHQ.

My deepest condolences to his family.

Making a success of the Energy Island concept

Underwater turbines
There was some good news for Anglesey's Energy Island project earlier this week when developers unveiled a £70m project to generate electricity with seven underwater turbines between the Skerries and Carmel Head. The advantages of underwater turbines is that unlike wind turbines  they are constantly generating power due to the movement of tide, and that they have only a small visual footprint. A two day exhibition was held earlier this week at Holyhead Town Hall, and the project will apparently be submitted for offshore planning approval to the Welsh Assembly Government next month. If all goes well, commissioning could begin as early as 2013-14.

Personally I believe that the Energy Island concept to be exceptionally promising. It combines great ambition with an understanding of Anglesey's unique resources. I'm sure there are many councils up and down the country which would love to have a similarly coherent economic development strategy. However, I do also have some reservations:

  • Energy projects, whether they be nuclear, tidal or otherwise, can only be realised by very large firms. Accordingly the council's Economic Development unit, in its enthusiasm for grand schemes, must take exceptional care to not inadvertently neglect nurturing and promoting the Island's indigenous small businesses -- of all kinds, energy-related or not. Following the loss of Anglesey Aluminium, we know the ill effects of putting too many eggs into one basket.
  • For the Energy Island concept to be a full success Anglesey must become an originator of energy technology -- not just a destination for off-island companies to place various schemes (the marine turbines we discussed above are a good example of this as MCT's R&D centre is actually based in Bristol). Accordingly the council must work to incubate Anglesey-based energy start-ups. The only way to do this would be to work with local research centres, such as Bangor University, to develop some kind of Energy Science Park located, for example, next to Wylfa. I would further suggest that using the "Shell Fund" to provide "seed money" for such start ups would be a far more productive use of the money then purely funnelling the majority of it into Oriel Môn each year.
  • Finally the council must not approve all energy-related projects willy-nilly. The decision to site a biodigester in Bodffordd is a good example of the council falling over itself to be seen to furthering the Energy Island agenda without properly considering whether Bodffordd really was the most suitable location for that particular development.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Quote of the Day (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose version)

From "An Island At War" by Geraint Jones, a history of Anglesey during WW2:
"At the outset of the Second World War ... Anglesey was one of the poorest areas of the United Kingdom. Holyhead, for example, saw itself as a forgotten town, battling against the effects of deep recession and chronic unemployment."
There will be more from this excellent book on Sunday.

A note to Councillors with parking £-signs in their eyes

Much media interest yesterday in Nottingham City Council's plans to impose a £250 (rising to £350 by 2014) per parking place levy on all companies which offer 11 or more parking places for their employees. Apparently other councils in Bristol, York, Devon, Hampshire, Leeds, Bournemouth, South Somerset and Wiltshire are also considering introducing similar schemes in their area. A spokesperson from Nottingham City Council on R4 yesterday said the idea was to use the revenue raised to fund transport improvements, including new road arrangements and further tram lines in the City.

In these straightened times were councils are looking at large funding cuts it may be a natural response for them to consider trying to raise revenue from other sources - however I would caution Anglesey County Council not to go down this route. Why?

  • Anglesey's economy is contracting, hundreds of jobs have been lost during the recent recession, and unemployment here is the highest in North Wales. To secure the Island's future there can be no substitute to the nurture and support of private enterprise on the Island - especially small businesses. This parking levy would directly affect the cash-flow of existing businesses at a difficult time and act as a disincentive for other companies to set-up on the Island. Anglesey County Council may be facing cuts, but the Island cannot afford anything which might act as a drag on our local businesses.
  • Affected businesses may pass on this extra cost to their workers. As average earnings  were approx. £396 per week in 2007, compared with £415 per week in Wales and £456 per week in the UK, an additional £250 a year bill for parking at work would further reduce already low average earnings.
  • Being a rural area most people need cars to travel to and from work. Anglesey's pubic transport system is not sufficiently robust to support more persons using it to travel to work.
  • Even if it was possible to use public transport to get to work, the facts are that people may still need to use cars for a number of reasons. One significant reason would be to deliver young children to daycare centres on the way to work. Daycare is already exceptionally expensive in the UK, without having to face a levy for then parking a car at work.
  • Improving transport improvements are incredibly expensive - I am sceptical that the amount of money this proposal would raise on Anglesey would even make a little dent in even a modest roadbuilding or other transport scheme.
  • Although I understand that Councils technically have had the power to impose workplace parking levies for a decade, I am extremely uncomfortable with idea of local government interfering unnecessarily or imposing a levy on what goes on legitimately on private land.

...I could go on but I think I have made my point. I would urge Anglesey County Council to look at where it can deliver improved services at a lower costs, before it simply seeks to find alternative revenue streams to sustain its current processes. If private businesses are able to deliver better, higher-spec'd products/services at a lower price every year then there is no reason why the costs for government run services should always invariably be rising.

Anyway, here's my message to any Councillors who have £ signs in their eyes after reading about Nottingham City Council's proposals: don't do it. 

However, if you are not convinced by these arguments, then put proposals to impose workplace levies in your manifestos and campaign on them in the 2012 local elections (which reminds me, we are still waiting to see the manifestos of the Original Independents, Menai Group, and Anglesey Forward).

Monday, 23 August 2010

Lessons from Down Under

As you know, the following question will be put to us via referendum on May 5th next year (same day as the Assembly elections):

"Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?"

It is interesting to note that only three other countries in the world use the Alternative Vote (AV) system: Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Accordingly we should all be especially interested in the results produced by the AV system in the Australian general election held just a couple of days ago - and not just because Wales-born Julia Gillard is standing as the leader of the Labor party.

As of the time of writing this, the Liberal/National Coalition, with 43.2 per cent of first-preference votes, has the same number of seats as Labor, with 38.5 per cent. The Greens, with 11.4 per cent, have just one seat. Are we sure we want the same system in this country? The argument put forward by the Lib Dems that it is 'fairer' than First Past The Post does not seem to hold true in this case.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Albert Owen, without irony, declares Coalition 'bankrupt'

In yesterday's Daily Post, our MP Albert Owen was given a bully pulpit to pen his verdict of the first hundred days of the new coalition government. As we are in the dog days of August and there doesn't seem to be much else happening, here is my review of Albert's review:

"The decision to increase VAT is deeply unfair and unjustifiable. Even the Lib Dems said as much during the election campaign. They were right to call it a regressive tax, because unlike Labour's tax proposals it disadvantages people at the bottom of the pay scale most."

I think it is pretty much accepted that the deficit needs to be cut, therefore the issue is how to fund that cut. It is possible to argue both ways whether a 2.5% rise in VAT is "fair" or not - however we should note that certain 'essential' purchases are 'zero-rated' for VAT and therefore are not affected. Those items include food (not from restaurants though), young children's clothing and footwear, public transport, books and newspapers and so on. Accordingly raising VAT will not effect the price of those essential items – however what Albert Owen fails to mention in damning the 2.5% VAT rise is that ALL products and services are affected by inflation which is currently running at 3.1%. Why is inflation so high? Because the previous Labour government ran up the biggest deficit in Britain's peacetime history and then resorted to printing money (or "quantitative easing") in order to fund its operations. What happens when huge amounts of extra money is pushed out into the economy? Prices rise to reflect the reduced value of money, i.e. inflation. If Albert Owen is so keen to protect "people at the bottom of the pay scale" then perhaps he might have condemned at the time his own Government's annually growing deficit and policy of quantitative easing which inevitably leads to run away inflation, and, unlike VAT, affects those on lower pay without exemption.

"Just yesterday, it was revealed that the NHS in Wales will be given a £20m VAT bill as a result of the Tory and Liberal tax hike. That is money that could have been used for vital equipment and more trained nurses."

There has been a lot of scaremongering regarding this figure in the last few days so firstly lets put that £20m VAT bill into context. The total Welsh Health and Social Services budget is £6bn. Therefore this £20m rise represents a minuscule 0.3% of the total budget (£20m/£6bn). Personally the question I would ask is why is the NHS paying VAT anyway?  If this extra £20m VAT bill for a 2.5% VAT rise rankles Labour so much, surely by extension the NHS has been paying an extra £140m ((17.5%/2.5%)*£20m) a year in VAT all the time that VAT has been set at 17.5%. If Ann Jones AM and Albert Owen are so concerned, why didn't Labour exempt the NHS from paying VAT during its 13 years in power?

"People say ideology does not play a strong role in politics any more, but when you look at the decisions being made by David Cameron and the equally fiscally conservative Nick Clegg, those decisions are based on deeply held but outdated, bankrupt beliefs"

Firstly considering the current size of the deficit, "bankrupt" is probably a word best avoided by members of the Labour Party if they wish to avoid ridicule. Secondly, which "outdated, bankrupt beliefs" is Albert referring to? Is it an "outdated" concept to suggest that the Government should live within its means and not burden current and, more importantly, future generations with huge debt? As Paul Myners, Labour's former City Minister said recently, "there is nothing progressive about a Government who consistently spend more than they can raise in taxation, and certainly nothing progressive that endows generations to come with the liabilities incurred by the current generation".

"Independent economic experts have already said that the Government's budget will reduce anticipated growth in the economy. That is bad for business, bad for jobs, bad for our communities"

As already discussed, in order to avoid saddling our children and our children's children with our debt, we have to act to reduce it now. That means bearing some pain in the short term in order to improve the country's finances and prospects of future growth in the long term.

"But the macho political desire of this Government to slash public spending outweighs those considerations".

Macho? Its worth noting that even with the spending revisions proposed the Coalition, it will not pay down a single penny of national debt by 2015 - the date of the next election. Furthermore, believe it or not, in cash terms, government spending will actually continue to rise over the next 5 years from £600 billion to £700 billion. So during the length of this parliament, the only thing being cut is the deficit, i.e. the rate by which the national debt rises each year - not the actual debt itself.

"...the June budget is estimated to put an extra 150,000 people out of work - people the experts say would still have a job under Labour"

Albert is talking here mainly about public sector workers. Although any job losses are unfortunate and regrettable, this country needs to move to a more sustainable economy. State jobs which, due to the massive deficit, are purely supported by by taxation on your children and your children's children are not sustainable. As even Peter Mandelson said earlier this year: "First and foremost we need to foster a new climate for enterprise in Britain. There is no substitute for this – no substitute for the drive and ambition that it brings … it is the single most important engine of economic progress. The recovery cannot be driven by consumer debt or public spending. It will be driven by private sector investment and private enterprise". Of course Albert Owen was part of Gordon Brown's cabal therefore probably uninterested in the utterings of Mandelson.

"The Future Jobs Fund helped thousands of young people in Wales find real work and under Labour it would have helped thousands more - it was one of the first things the Tories and Lib Dems axed"

I have said everything I have to say about the 'Future Jobs Fund' here.

"I take no pleasure in forecasting difficulties for our communities, but the coalition is taking the wrong course of action"

As opposed, I suppose, to the right course of action taken by Labour over the last 13 years... [here, unlike the unselfaware Albert, I am employing irony]

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Alliance limps on

Sorry if this is old news for some but I've just got back and am catching up. I see from Friday's Daily Post that an unnamed Plaid spokesman has said that "all parties involved aren't particularly happy with certain elements and have had input into changes in the operational document" and therefore the Alliance Terms of Engagement was being merely being "subjected to revision" to meet Plaid Cymru objections. Why now? The final Alliance Terms of Engagement were signed by all Member Group Leaders (including Plaid's Cllr Bob Parry) on June 7th, i.e. more than two months ago. Why is it that Plaid Cymru is only now waking up and making objections? Did Bob Parry not discuss this with our AM, Plaid Cymru's Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones at the time?

Cllr Bob Parry is further reported in the Daily Post as saying "There is no truth whatsoever in reports that Plaid Cymru are having to walk away from the Alliance. The Alliance is secure. We have one member (Rhian Medi) who has chosen to not sign up to the Alliance but she remains a Plaid Cymru member. All other members have signed up and remain in the Alliance". Not according to the Golwg article which states "that the majority of Plaid members are unhappy with the agreement" ("gyda mwyafrif cynghorwyr Plaid Cymru'n anhapus gyda'r cytundeb").

The original Golwg article further reported that Plaid Cymru's National Executive was unhappy that Plaid policies are not being pushed as part of the agreement. The Druid wonders what Plaid policies they have in mind? No to nuclear power, perhaps? Or maybe Plaid's policy of banning all low level flight training from RAF Valley? Furthermore as only eight of the 40 County Councillors represent Plaid, perhaps Plaid's National Executive may want think about what kind of democratic legitimacy they have in trying to push through Plaid policies through the back door in this way.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Is Plaid Cymru withdrawing from the Alliance for the right reasons?

I will be heading dros y bont this weekend so blogging is likely to be light. However, I will leave you with two thoughts before I go:

1. Plaid Cymru's reported withdrawal from the Alliance

A knowledgeable commenter on the previous thread writes:

"I suspect that those [Plaid Cymru councillors] who have refused to sign the terms of engagement have moral reservations that are stronger than the given reason, (loss of position of whip in the Alliance).
Whileas Plaid's National Executive may have reservations about the extremely contentious 'naming, shaming and excluding' clause; they may find that objecting to procedural inconsistencies with their own policies is a politically safer path to tread."

Other commenters have written that whatever Plaid's motives, it is in the best interests of Anglesey residents that the Alliance fails. My feelings are that if Plaid have indeed withdrawn from the Alliance for higher moral reasons than the ones given, then they are behaving in a very cowardly manner in not making those reasons known and trying to sell their position to the people of Anglesey. If the Alliance does now fall (and its difficult to see how it cannot without Plaid's support) and Carl Sargeant makes good on his threat of "drastic and permanent consequences", then Plaid are plunging us all into the unknown for no good reason. During a period of severe austerity cuts, we will have Cardiff Bay-appointed commissioners without any democratic oversight deciding which Anglesey services will be cut and which saved. Furthermore, we will have no say on the "permanent consequences" to the future structure of the Council. If Plaid Cymru is doing all this for the 'right reasons' then they should try to sell that argument NOW - and not inevitably try and spin after the fact that they were really acting under the best motives all along.

2. The Council's complaint about Cllr Durkin to the Ombudsman

Whatever the rights or wrongs of making a complaint about Cllr Durkin to the Ombudsman, Glyn Pritchard-Jones makes a very good point that it is an extraordinarily poor use of £75,000 of public funds (i.e. the reported legal bill) at a time when the council is cutting various public services. As Glyn says:
"Closing the Council's tourist office at Holyhead was a faux pas as the sole employee would cost Anglesey Council perhaps at best £75,000 over a three year period ignoring the invisible fiscal benefits such an office contributes to the island."
The question I would like to ask is: why is the Council's legal department unable to prepare the complaint by themselves without the assistance of expensive external solicitors?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

++ Council Crisis: Plaid Cymru walk away from Alliance ++

The Welsh language news website, Golwg360, is reporting that the Plaid Cymru National Executive Committee has ruled that Anglesey County Council's Terms of Engagement are counter to the constitution of Plaid Cymru because of the following clause:

"The Alliance shall appoint a "whip" whose primary functions shall be: to ensure successful and timely communication across all Groups represented on the Alliance; and to ensure and monitor adherence to the Terms of the Alliance ... Anyone so appointed shall be drawn from amongst the Groups whose members do not include the Council's Leader or Deputy, from time to time."

As the Deputy Leader is of course Plaid's Bob Parry, this means that the appointed whip must be from either Labour or the Menai Group. However it appears that it is contrary to Plaid's constitution for a Plaid member to be disciplined by a whip not from within Plaid. (Update: Cllr Cliff Everett writes to let us know that the whip is Labour's John Chorlton).

Furthermore, Plaids National Executive are apparently unhappy that Bob Parry signed the Terms of Engagement without consulting them, and that Plaid policies were not pushed as part of the agreement. As a consequence it now seems that the majority of Plaid's eight councillors have now refused to sign the Terms and Plaid Cymru must as a group withdraw from the Alliance.

Although Golwg does not report any official reply from the Council, this must effectively mean that the Alliance is now over. WAG Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant has already made his position vis-a-vis the collapse of the Alliance in this letter to all councillors on June 30:

"...arrangements can fall apart as fast as they can be put together. Accordingly I have asked my officials and the Recovery Board to prepare contingency plans which we can implement urgently if recovery falters and/or the alliance fails. Those plans would have drastic and possible permanent consequences for the council and its current membership. It is in everyone's interests to ensure that they are never needed."
So, because of Plaid Cymru's prissy and self-centred concern for their 'procedures' over whats best for the council and the residents of Anglesey, we could now be just days away from direct rule from Cardiff.   And this from the party which styles itself as being "local champions"... Where is our 'invisible' AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones in all of this??

Local Government Options for Anglesey

With Albert Owen and John Chorlton calling for an elected mayor and Barrie Durkin and Rhian Medi calling for the Assembly to take over, its worth pondering the pros and cons of various different forms of local government for Anglesey:

(A) The Council retains its current form and geographic scope, i.e. no change

Let us suppose that the Recovery Board declines to move Anglesey County Council into the commissioner stage and its current structure remains in place. It is likely that WAG will appoint a permanent MD sometime over the next months, with interim MD David Bowles remaining in place as a mentor until the end of his two year contract in October 2011. Certain councillors will be censored to various degrees by the Ombudsman and at some point the Recovery Board will declare themselves satisfied with progress and be disbanded. The next local government elections will then be held in May 2012. The questions we have to ask are these:

  1. In a post-Bowles and post-Recovery Board world will councillors revert to their old ways of personality politics and in-flighting?
  2. Will the manifestos which all independent groups are being forced to produce be sufficiently widely publicised and offer electors a sufficient degree of policy differentiation to allow them to make informed decisions about who to vote for?
  3. Will the next local elections in 2012 radically change the current make up of the council? i.e. will there be an infusion of "new blood" which will change the dynamic of the council in a positive direction? Or will all the old faces be returned as usual?

(B) The Council is taken over by the Welsh Assembly Government

In another scenario, the Recovery Board may come to the point that they believe that introducing WAG appointed commissioners is the only way forward. Indeed Rhian Medi's outburst may already be leading us in this direction as Plaid Cymru are apparently applying pressure for the Terms of Agreement to altered. However, whichever event 'triggers' this eventuality it will mean that all councillors will be immediately suspended (with a loss of their allowances) and all executive decisions will henceforth be made by unelected commissioners. The questions we have to ask are these:

  1. As we are entering a period of austerity cuts, are we happy in having unaccountable Assembly appointed commissioners without democratic legitimacy making decisions about which services in Anglesey to cut? I personally find this highly unpalatable. 
  2. The council will not remain in commissioner stage forever. The commissioners will at some point make a recommendation on how the council should be structured in the future: meaning it will either (a) return to its current form following the holding of the local government elections in May 2012; or (b) be amalgamated with another council as the only way of ensuring that it does not return to its culture of personality politics and infighting. Which structure is most preferable?

(C) The Council is re-amalgamated into Gwynedd County Council

This would probably seem the obvious remedy to the Welsh Assembly - after all, Anglesey was part of Gwynedd County Council until the local government reorganisations of the mid 1990s. This may also make sense considering that the current coalition government are planning to equalise Westminster constituency sizes meaning that our future MP will likely represent the current Anglesey and Arfon constituencies anyway. The questions we have to ask are:

  1. What has Gwynedd County Council done to deserve this?
  2. Should we as Anglesey residents be happy with having far fewer councillors and being just a part of a much larger council?
  3. Would Anglesey's specific needs to be catered for effectively by a larger council?

(D) An elected Mayor is appointed for Anglesey

A fourth scenario is the appointment of an elected Mayor for Anglesey, currently being agitated for by Albert Owen MP and John Chorlton (though as per yesterday's post I wonder just how serious they are about these proposals). To trigger a referendum, it would be necessary to collect certified signatures of around 5,000 Anglesey residents - by no means an impossible task. Assuming the referendum was then won, presumably a further election would be held to appoint the Mayor. Such a major change plus the fact that the candidates would need to campaign on a pan-Island manifesto would surely lead to great public interest, debate and scrutiny - by no means a bad thing. The success for failure of the system would surely rest on the competency of the appointed Mayor. The experience in Doncaster where an English Democrat was appointed as Mayor has proven disastrous and Doncaster Council has subsequently been taken into commissioner stage. The questions we have to ask are:

  1. What is the likely calibre of the persons putting themselves forward to be Mayor?
  2. Is it wise to place so much power in the hands of just one individual?
  3. Do we really need an elected MP, AM, and Mayor? 

Having written the above I kind of find myself wishing there was a fifth option... none of these scenarios really fill me with much confidence.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Is Albert Owen serious about an Elected Mayor?

According to the Daily Post, Albert Owen used the Anglesey Show yesterday to launch his campaign for an elected mayor for Anglesey, saying:

"I believe that a mayor voted in by the people of Anglesey is the only way we can really go forward with the County Council. 
He or she will have the people's mandate to manage both the councillors themselves, and also create a manifesto for the island that will naturally run its' course, parallel to the duration of the council itself. 
A directly elected mayor will be someone who would speak for the whole area and would make it easier to get things done and would be responsible should things go wrong.
It's time for Anglesey County Council to get its act together and be accountable for its actions. I believe an elected mayor is the best way forward for the Island, bringing both stability and accountability to the people of Anglesey."

As it happens your humble Druid spent most of yesterday at the Anglesey Show and didn't notice any "campaign" being launched there. Which is strange because in order to trigger a referendum on appointing an elected mayor it is necessary to collect signatures of, from memory, 10% of the electorate - so in Anglesey's case that should be somewhere around 5,000 signatures. And where better place to start collecting signatures than at the Anglesey Show? It surely would have been fairly easy for Albert to get a bunch of Labour activists to stand by the entrance asking visitors to sign a petition calling for an elected mayor. Yet I noticed no canvassers, no banners calling for a mayor outside the Labour portacabin, in fact nothing at all. Did anyone else see anything?

My point here is this: is Albert Owen serious about campaigning for an elected Mayor, or is this just empty posturing so that when challenged about the council he can claim to have proposed a solution?

Cllr Barrie Durkin calls for Assembly to take over Anglesey Council (Updated)

Named-and-shamed councillor, Barrie Durkin, has sent the below letter to Local Government minister, Carl Sargeant, calling for the Welsh Assembly to immediately take over the running of Anglesey County Council:
Barrie Durkin letter to Carl Sargeant

Readers may recall that Plaid Cymru councillor, Rhian Medi, also last week came out against the Terms of Engagement and called for the Assembly to become involved if things deteriorated any further. Incidentally, as I wrote at the time, seeing how Cllr Medi has so publicly criticised the Alliance, according to the Terms of Engagement, Bob Parry now has no choice but to expel her from the Plaid Cymru group - yet I have not heard of any such action being taken. Does anyone know whether Medi has been expelled or not? And if not, why not? After all Cllr Goronwy Parry was expelled from the Original Independents for much less (admittedly this was prior to the Terms of Engagement though...).

UPDATE: A person identifying him/herself as a Plaid Councillor writes the following in comments:

Its my understanding that Cllr Medi has NOT been sacked from the Alliance and that Plaid central office are demanding the terms of engagement must be changed.

If this is true, then it really would put the Alliance in between a rock and hard place. If they refuse to amend the Terms of Engagement then presumably all Plaid members would need to leave the Alliance. If this were to occur then we know from Carl Sargeant's letter to all councillors on June 30 that the Welsh Assembly would almost certainly take over the council. Here is what Sargeant wrote:

"...arrangements can fall apart as fast as they can be put together. Accordingly I have asked my officials and the Recovery Board to prepare contingency plans which we can implement urgently if recovery falters and/or the alliance fails"

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Rebecca to investigate Anglesey County Council

Word has reached the Druid that the respected investigative website Rebecca has started work on a series of articles about Anglesey County Council. The editor of Rebecca, which was the scourge of corruption in Welsh local government back in the 1970s, is Paddy French who was also the producer of the long series of ITV Wales This Week programmes about the council. Apparently, there will be a long article in the second edition of the magazine due out later this year. The first issue examined masonic influence in North Wales, including a controversial police investigation into a freemason accused of child abuse.

Any Druid readers who want an issue related to Anglesey County Council investigated – or who want to give information – can contact Rebecca at: editorial@rebeccatelevision.com.

Could it be Wylfa?

Only time for quick post today as I'll be heading off to the Anglesey Show shortly, but its worth pointing out that in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced that "we are on course to make sure that the first new nuclear power station opens on time in 2018". He would not identify where it would be built but offered these clues: "there are a number of sites that have been identified around the country and those are generally on sites where we have previously had, for example, nuclear power stations and where the local people are very keen that there should be new nuclear build".

Previously had a nuclear power station? Local people in favour of another nuclear build? I've got to say it sounds a lot like Wylfa to me...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Classic moments from the Anglesey Show

Seeing as its the first day of the Anglesey Show tomorrow, its a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this classic pseudo-evangelical performance outside the Plaid tent a couple of years ago...

IWJ's body language during the first little performance says it all...

IWJ, Ieuan Air and the passenger-less Ministerial Car

An interesting snippet in yesterday's Wales on Sunday throwing some light on IWJ's usage of the North-South Airlink (a.k.a. Ieuan Air):

"It’s belt- tightening time all around – and that includes the Assembly Government, which has joined everybody else in cutting back on the profligate expenses.
That doesn’t explain, though, the response to a Freedom of Information request published last week, asking how many times ministerial cars were travelling between Cardiff and Anglesey without a passenger (that missing passenger being, presumably, Deputy First Minister and Anglesey AM Ieuan Wyn Jones.)
The answer: 32 times in the past two years: 13 times in 2008, 17 times last year and twice so far this year.
“These journeys were made to provide ministers with official transportation from Anglesey to other destinations,” explained the Assembly Government, thus cutting out the need for Mr Jones to chunder down the A55 in a normal car like everybody else."

Doubtless the Wales on Sunday means the A470, but I digress. So Ieuan Wyn Jones flies up and down on the Airlink but presumably sends his chauffer-driven ministerial car back and forth between Anglesey and Cardiff to set him down at one airport and pick him up at the other. Anyone who's ever tried to find a taxi at Anglesey Airport will recognise how handy that could be  however, with the the North-South Airlink already costing Welsh taxpayers £800,000 a year, Ieuan Wyn Jones might want to look up the number of local minicab company next time.

Incidentally, last week's Holyhead and Anglesey Mail carried an advert from IWJ saying that he will be at the Plaid Cymru tent throughout this week's Anglesey show. Presumably therefore he is up here on Plaid rather than Welsh Assembly business and will not require his chauffer-driven WAG car. However you never know – so here's a little competition for all readers: I will donate an Anglesey Druid's Head Penny as a prize to anyone who manages to spot and take a snapshot of IWJ's chauffer-driven ministerial car this week!*

* Obviously the photo must show the car in Anglesey - not Cardiff! First photo wins.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hanes Môn: the Anglesey Druid's Head Pennies

Reporting on the daily scandals in Llangefni can become monotonous so from now on I propose to start an occasional weekend series on some little known gems of Ynys Môn history. And where better to start than with the Parys "Anglesey Druid" pennies and halfpennies which became widely circulated as currency back in the 18th century.

The Anglesey Druids were first struck in copper in 1787 by Parys Mine Company owner Thomas Williams in order to pay his miners. However, with over ten million pieces (the equivalent of at least 250 tons of pennies and 50 tons of halfpennies) issued by 1817, they quickly became common currency throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, they even had "WE PROMISE TO PAY THE BEARER ONE PENNY IN LONDON LIVERPOOL OR ANGLESEY" engraved across their face and edges.

Although known as the Anglesey Druids, they were actually originally struck in the Parys Mine Mint in Great Charles Street, Birmingham. Production later moved to the Soho Mint in Handsworth where the 1790 Anglesey halfpennies have the distinction of being the world's first truly modern coins, being fully round and of regular size and weight, struck by steam, in a collar. Eventually Anglesey Pennies and Halfpennies were being made in mints up and down the country, apparently making the Druid's Head one of the most recognisable images of the time!

If you are interested in owning a Druid's Head coin, they're still widely available on eBay.

If you have any other suggestions on subjects to cover in this Anglesey history series, do let me know in comments.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Another day, another Anglesey County Council scandal

Cllr Aled Morris Jones (left) and Cllr O Glyn Jones (right)
Another day, another Anglesey County Council scandal. Just days after Cllr Rhian Medi's little outburst in Golwg, it now emerges that two Original Independent-affiliated county councillors have been suspended by the Adjudication Board for breaching the council's Code of Conduct. Cllr Aled Morris Jones was suspended for four months, and Cllr O Glyn Jones for two months.

Cllr Morris Jones, who is actually a Lib Dem though he sits with the Original Independents, was suspended after complaints regarding the way he chaired two meetings in 2009. It is not clear why Cllr O Glyn Jones was suspended. However both are thought to have breached paragraph 8 of the council's Code of Conduct. The relevant sections are attached below:
Paragraph 8 Code of Conduct Anglesey County Council

I know that issues regarding Anglesey County Council tend to give rise to strong feelings, but I would kindly ask you not to post derogatory comments below.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Plaid Councillor calls Council Terms of Engagement "wrong and slanderous"

Cllr Rhian Medi (Plaid Cymru)
In an interview in this weeks edition of the Welsh language magazine, Golwg, Plaid Cymru county councillor Rhian Medi has publicly slammed Anglesey County Council's "Terms of Engagement":

  • She calles the Allliance's Terms of Engagement "wrong and slanderous" ("wallus ac enllibus");
  • She claims that the Terms of Engagement go against the internal regulations of Plaid Cymru in calling for any Alliance member who doesn't support it to be disciplined by all of the leaders of the Alliance;
  • The number of councillors who accept the Terms of Engagement are in the minority;
  • To attack individuals and name names is a step back in the history of the Council;
  • David Bowles is supposed to stop the infighting and lead the council forward, yet we have returned to personal politics;
  • If things deteriate any further then the Assembly will have to take control of the Council.

Considering that Plaid Cymru leader, Cllr Bob Parry, signed the Terms of Engagement and brought his Plaid Cymru councillors into the Alliance with him, Rhian Medi's outburst is both a personal attack on him and must bring the Council one step closer to being taken over by Assembly appointed commissioners. Surely the Recovery Board will feel that an outburst like this from a member of the Alliance is indicative of serious fractures within it.

What will now happen to Rhian Medi? Article 4 of the Terms of Engagement makes it very clear what should happen:
 "Any member of the Groups within the Alliance who does not publicly support this stance, and refuses to "sign up" to the principle described in the paragraph above [i.e. isolate and publicly identify those Councillors who block progress], or whom their Group Leader  considers to have failed to demonstrate sufficient ongoing commitment to the recovery, shall be ejected from their Group". 
Bob Parry has no choice: he must now eject Rhian Medi from the Plaid Cymru grouping. However doing so could have unknown consequences for the governance of the Council as a whole.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Ridge-Newman selected to fight Gower

Anthony Ridge-Newman, the Conservative candidate for Ynys Môn in the General Election, has announced via his blog that he has been selected to fight Gower in next year's Assembly elections.

Ridge-Newman surprised a lot of people (especially in the Plaid Cymru camp) with his energetic campaign and remarkable performance in the General Election: effectively doubling the Conservative vote compared to 2005, and achieving the largest pro-Conservative swing in North Wales. Just goes to show that a little drive and determination goes a long way - even on Ynys Môn.

Ynys Môn 2010 General Election Results (click to enlarge)

In Gower, Ridge-Newman will be facing veteran Labour AM and current Minister for Health and Social Services, Edwina Hart. She will be defending a majority of just 1,192 votes and could just have a fight on her hands.

Ridge-Newman's departure will of course mean that the Ynys Môn Conservatives will have to field a new candidate to fight the 2011 Assembly Elections.