Sunday, 31 October 2010

Hanes Môn: Anglesey's Ghengis Khan?

A 2003 study discovered through DNA analysis that as many as 8 percent of the male inhabitants of Asia are probable descendants of Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior emperor, leader of the Golden Horde, and founder of an Empire that stretched from Central Asia all the way to gates of Vienna. However due to his even more considerable conquests with the opposite sex, it is estimated that Ghengis Khan has roughly 16 million male descendants -- i.e. half of one percent of the entire male population of the world.

What has this got to do with Ynys Môn? Well, take a look at this inscription from a tombstone at Eglwys Tregaian, near Capel Coch:

William Ap Howel may not have conquered half of Eurasia, but I wonder how many of us Islanders are descendants of this clearly extraordinary man?

(Hat tip: Photonic Anglesey)

Friday, 29 October 2010

Any port in a (funding) storm. (Updated)

I wrote back in March this year about the Offshore Wind Site Development Competition organised by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to allocate £60m of funds to help port authorities and developers looking to develop new offshore wind manufacturing and assembly facilities. Ports which wished to apply had to prove that they:

  • have access to sufficient land that could be developed into wind turbine manufacturing facilities;
  • are suitable for the transport of large and heavy products;
  • and already have heavy duty surfacing capable of bearing heavy loads in place. 

There was much hope at the time that, in line with the Energy Island concept, Holyhead's now defunct Anglesey Aluminium plant, which has a deep water dock, would be a very suitable location.

Happily the £60m funds have survived the Comprehensive Spending Review and the competition is still open -- although it has now emerged that because this is classed as 'business support' (i.e. a devolved function) the lions share of the £60m will be reserved for England with only Barnett consequentials available to Wales, Scotland and Northern Island. The good news is this guarantees that the Welsh Assembly will receive £3.5m towards developing a Welsh port (and just by looking at the adjacent map, it can only really be Holyhead). The bad news however is that no matter how eligible or suitable Holyhead may appear, it cannot receive any more than that amount. This has cued outrage from Albert Owen, who has said this is "another example of the Tories and Liberals marginalising Wales", whereas Ieuan Wyn Jones, asserts the decision shows a "complete lack of respect" for the Welsh economy.

My personal view is that its highly unlikely that £3.5m alone will be anywhere near enough money to properly transform the Anglesey Aluminium plant and dock into one suitable for manufacturing and shipping offshore wind turbines. Accordingly it would have been far better for the government to take a more strategic view and divide the total budget between the two or three most suitable ports (no matter in which region they are located) so that the sums each location received would be sufficient enough to deliver a considerable impact.

However -- and here's a novel thought -- instead of forever whinging about supposed slights by the coalition government, why doesn't the Welsh Assembly Government step up and show us that it can take action when required? WAG has a £15bn budget; of that approximately £1.2bn is earmarked for Economic Development and Transport. As Ieuan Wyn Jones has announced that half the Economic Development budget will now be spent on as yet undefined infrastructure projects, why can't some £11.5m of this money (i.e. 9 percent) be added to the £3.5m from DECC to make a pot of £15m for developing Holyhead port? Presumably an investment of this kind could help make Holyhead the key staging area for 'Round 3' offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea -- whilst also supporting the development of a sustainable new industry in the UK's poorest area.

The Welsh Assembly has been only too happy to waste our money on expanding mostly unnecessary universal benefits (such as free prescriptions and free breakfasts for primary school children) which neither generate jobs nor possible future sustainable revenue streams for Wales. Its time for WAG to get its priorities in order, stop using the excuse that it is 'underfunded' (according to the Holtham Report, through the Barnett Formula Wales receives £112 for every £100 spend on devolved activities in England) and go out an earn the 'respect' it says it deserves.

UPDATE: I am grateful to commenters who point out that the Port of Mostyn near Holywell, with ready access to the A55, M62, M56, and M6, is already well ahead in establishing itself as the ideal servicing location for offshore wind farms in the East Irish Sea. This clearly shows that for Holyhead to compete, DECC/WAG support to modify the port will be meaningless unless it first manages to attract wind turbine manufacturers to set up production operations in the town. Just before the election there were a number of front page stories in the Daily Post about how the then Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, was in talks with a unnamed company to set up just such a wind turbine factory on the Anglesey Aluminium site. Hain even described it as "the beginning of good times" for Anglesey -- though predictably, as sure as today's front pages become tomorrow fish'n'chips wrappers, we never heard anything about the whole thing ever again.

I think that the 'Energy Island' concept is a good one, and, in theory, Anglesey is ideally located to take advantage of a trend towards lower carbon energy sources, be they nuclear or renewable marine technologies. But as I have written previously:

"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. 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 somewhere on the Island. 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."

Thursday, 28 October 2010

++ Anglesey Grants - an appeal ++

Regular readers of this blog will know that Holyhead resident, Gwynfor Pierce, has long battled with Anglesey County Council over problems he experienced regarding a Housing Renovation and Town Improvement Grant that he was awarded to improve the flats above his shop on Market Street in Holyhead. The substance of his concerns can be summarised as follows:

  • Even though the building works carried out on his property via an agent were sub-standard and unsatisfactory, the council still approved payments; Completion certificates were also submitted and approved for work that was never finished and which had also been improperly invoiced by the builders;
  • The costs of the works tendered were artificially inflated significantly over the actual value of the works. Consequently in order to remain within the budget of his contribution, Gwynfor agreed that non-essential items should be omitted. However with the help of a quantity surveyor Gwynfor later discovered that the items omitted were extreme, leading the flats to be judged "detrimental to the health and safety of future council occupants". Furthermore Building Control also later discovered 24 contraventions of building regulations;
  • The agents failed to provide proper contracts and the council failed to ensure that Gwynfor was fully informed of his responsibilities under the grant scheme. Proper quality monitoring procedures were not implemented;
  • When Gwynfor took his concerns to the council he was faced with an extraordinarily complex complaints system coupled with real difficulties in obtaining information from the council's grants files. This made it extremely difficult for him to substantiate his claims;
  • The council is responsible for ensuring that all Welsh Assembly housing grants are spent properly on works that are fit for purpose and meet Welsh Housing Standards -- however in this case the works were not fit for purpose and yet the council appeared unwilling to pursue the case.

Despite the above difficulties Gwynfor faced in pursuing his case with Anglesey Council, he fought on and after years of pushing an internal audit was eventually ordered into the matter. After 120 days of investigation the result was a grudging acknowledgement by the council that,

"there are certain recommendations arising ... as regards procedures and future administration of grants". 

However it also predictably found fault with Gwynfor himself:

"[t]he investigations ... have raised questions with regard to the applicant and certain agents employed by the applicant. Some terms of the grant have not been complied with and the Council has requested re-payment of the grant monies". 

Following further pressing by Gwynfor (including this letter sent to all councillors in September this year) and the helpful intervention of Mark Isherwood AM, Anglesey Council have now gone one step further by admitting for the very first time -- and as long alleged by Gwynfor -- that,

"... evidence exists that external parties have sought to defraud the Council". 

Happily the case is now being investigated by the council's external auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and the Police have been informed of the irregularities. The increasingly excellent welsh language news magazine, Golwg, has also took up the case. The Druid hopes that justice will now be swiftly served.

However the story does not end here. Gwynfor first took his concerns to the council in 2007 and it has taken him three years of continuous effort to get Llangefni to recognise that there really were serious problems with his grant. The question we have to ask is whether Gwynfor was just extraordinarily unlucky -- or whether there are other Anglesey residents who have also had a similar experience with housing grants but have lacked Gwynfor's herculean perseverance in pursuing their cases with the council?

Well, as it happens a Brynsiencyn resident, who also regularly contributes to this blog, had a very similar experience with a Home Regeneration Grant he was awarded seven years ago. He also took his concerns to the council but was repeatedly rebuffed, investigated himself for attempting to defraud the council (for which he was cleared), and was then outrageously told to stop writing to the Legal Department about his continuing concerns. Sound familiar?

Through word of mouth he found another nearby resident who had experienced exactly the same problems (even down to having the same agent and builder) -- and this despite having been told by the council that there had been no other similar problems reported concerning Home Regeneration Grants. Finally, out of frustration, he went to see our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones and told him about both cases. Ieuan was sympathetic but ultimately unhelpful and sent him away saying,

“I believe that these two are isolated cases -- however if you find that there are enough other similar cases, then I will bring the matter to the attention of the Welsh Assembly”. 

Accordingly, today we are launching an appeal to find other Anglesey residents who have suffered a similar experiences. Explicitly we are looking for people who have been recipients of grant works to improve private/landlord/public housing but have experienced any of the following problems:

  • sub-standard work which they have had to accept due to the actions of agents who have behaved improperly due to a lack of proper contracts or lack of oversight by the council;
  • problems during the tendering process;
  • the need to make their own repairs to the works afterwards;
  • have tried unsuccessfully to obtain formal documentation explaining the policies and procedures for progressing the grant and how to sort matters out when things go wrong;
  • have tried unsuccessfully to obtain redress through the council.

You can get in touch by using the 'Contact' tab above and can rest assured that your anonymity will be protected. Based on the number of responses, the plan will be to prepare a dossier of such cases which can be presented to Ieuan Wyn Jones. Then we will see whether our AM will take the acton he has promised.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Open letter to the Daily Post's Letters Editor

Dear Editor of the Daily Post Letters Page,

Please stop printing endless letters from people with no obvious economic credentials, telling us that the coalition's 'cuts' are are too fast and too deep. I am quite capable of reading The Guardian's reporting on the coalition's macroeconomic policies at first hand -- without having to re-read them several days later when recycled by a councillor from Ceredigion or some guy from Licswm, Flintshire.

Yours faithfully,
A. Druid

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tell it to the ONS, Albert.

Today the Office for National Statistics announced that the UK economy grew 0.8 percent during the third quarter, twice as fast as expected. This now means that the economy has been growing for half a year at a sustained rate of 3.2 percent on an annualised basis -- a remarkable pace.

Its ironic therefore that Albert Owen chose today to write in to the Daily Post to warn, "Every forecast predicts falling growth since [government] measures were announced, hardly cause for optimism. Failure to have adequate growth will lead to stagnation, mass unemployment and rising crime as we saw in the 1980s-90s Tory years".

Albert Owen also takes issue with Wales Office minister, David Jones: "[He] is wrong to suggest that Anglesey is the poorest county in the UK, as no like for like data exists, indeed if areas within the South Wales valleys were measured as single units they would fall behind Anglesey".

Perhaps Albert had better tell the Office for National Statistics (ONS) then, as their latest regional Gross Value Added (GVA) bulletin contains this chart:

Click to enlarge

GVA per head is basically the index most regularly used to compare relative levels of wealth -- and as the above chart clearly shows 'Isle of Anglesey' is right at the bottom with a GVA of just 55.1 percent of the UK average. Please also note that these latest figures are for 2007, i.e. before the closure of Anglesey Aluminium (450 jobs), Eaton Electric (240 jobs), Menai Electrical (50 jobs), Readileads (35 jobs) and the Vion/Welsh Country Foods restructuring (191 jobs).

Of course this is rather embarrassing for Albert because when the constituency he represents is officially declared by the ONS to be the poorest place in the UK, things by definition can't be any worse -- or to put it another way: have not improved at all over the past 13 years of Labour rule.

Anyway if Albert Owen has statistics which prove that we are not after all the poorest place in the UK, I suggest he passes them to the ONS rather than writing quibbling letters to the Daily Post.

Wales This Week takes on Anglesey Council again...

The ITV investigative news programme, 'Wales This Week' -- which previously delved extensively into 'problems' at Anglesey County Council -- is poised to make an update on the situation on Anglesey. Focussing on the 'recovery', it will be screened next Thursday evening (4th November).

Apparently the news has caused some considerable disquiet at the council with senior figures warning that it may even damage the recovery. All I can say is that it must be a very fragile recovery if some extra media scrutiny is threatening to derail it.

I also hear that several of the main protagonists in the recovery process have refused to be interviewed by ITV -- a decision I find baffling. I urge them to reconsider: they should have the confidence to put across forcefully their side of the argument. If they do not and refuse to appear then it will not only be a PR disaster for the recovery, it will also naturally make Anglesey residents believe they have something to hide.

The Wales This Week programme will also be the revealing of the results of a confidential ITV poll of all participating councillors on their opinion of interim MD, David Bowles' performance, and whether they believe the recovery plan will solve the council's problems. Expect serious fireworks inside the council if the results are not positive.

Monday, 25 October 2010

++ Anglesey Council ruling Alliance releases Manifesto ++

In a remarkably positive step the ruling Alliance at Anglesey County Council, comprising of Llais i Fôn, Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Menai Group, have just released the below Manifesto/Policy Document outlining their aims and priorities in governing the council. This document has been approved by the National Executives of both Plaid Cymru and Labour and covers the following thirteen policy areas:

  • Education and Leisure
  • Social Services
  • Housing / Homes
  • Human Resources
  • Economic Development, Work and Tourism
  • Transport
  • The Environment
  • Property
  • Finance
  • Customer Service
  • Planning
  • Law and Order
  • Corporate Affairs

This blog has long argued that one of the main reasons for dysfunction at Anglesey County Council is because our councillors lack both a shared vision for the Island and a policy roadmap of how to get there. This is in large part due to a significant number of Independents who are elected without issuing to voters in their wards either individual or group manifestos. Because of this: (a) residents are only able to vote on personalities and not policies; and (b) as we do not know in detail what they are voting for, it is impossible for us to then evaluate our councillor’s performance when the next council elections come around. Accordingly we should all welcome the Alliance's decision to publish this document because -- whatever we think of its content -- it represents a belated recognition by our councillors that by engaging in a 'battle of ideas' instead of a 'battle of personalities', both local democracy and the council's responsiveness to our needs can only be improved.

I will be posting my thoughts on its content in due course, but in the meantime I urge you all to take a look at the full Alliance manifesto below and share your thoughts and comments. IoACC Alliance Policy Document#32

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Guest Post: Llanddwyn Through the Lens

Instead of the Druid's usual occasional Sunday series on Ynys Môn history, today we have a guest post by the brand new blog 'Photonic Anglesey', which is dedicated to capturing the essence and beauty of our island through photography. In this guest post 'Photon' takes us on a photographic tour of one of the jewels in the Anglesey crown: Llanddwyn beach and island:

Many island dwellers and visitors alike will know and love the wonderful setting of Traeth Llanddwyn, Newborough. A miles-long shallow sandy beach looking out to the almost mystical mountains of the Llyn Peninsula, guarded to the rear by towering sand dunes that first appeared during intensified stormy weather in the early 1300s. So what better, more popular place to choose as a location for just a small selection of images that capture the varying mood of Anglesey?

Let's start with an aerial image taken from near Abermenai Point. The vast majority of people take a right turn to Llanddwyn Island from the car park, but this is the sweeping, five-and-a-half mile round trip walk that awaits a walker in search of solitude, if you turn left:

What I want to show: Varied land and seascape,
absence of people, and just the stunning beauty of Llanddwyn

Not that you can't get some solitude on the most well-trodden parts of Llanddwyn. A sneaky trick used by us locals is to simply wait for winter to arrive, when the winds sweep-up the sand and leave even the most popular beach largely devoid of people:

A stormy winter's day: Time to walk, think - and be almost entirely free of tourists!

So many people walk the soft (and hard) sands of Llanddwyn that a surprisingly large number of artefacts of human visitation are inadvertently left behind. A practice that seems to have developed into something of a custom here is the gathering and display of 'lost articles', ranging from distraught kids' toys to an array of single shoes:

Socks and shoes. Didn't the owners realise they
were walking oddly on the way back to the car?

And odd things aren't limited to personal belongings at Llanddwyn. On one sunny New Year's Day, I took that left-hand turn and walked to the end of Abermenai Point. There isn't a lot there, to be honest, but it sure clears out the cobwebs! The walk was made worthwhile by finding this peculiar scene, created by a mooring buoy and the background beach:

Come in, Number 6! I'm not sure if this escaped
from Portmeirion, but it certainly made for a good photo.

The fact that Llanddwyn is special is evident in many ways: the number of visitors, it's inclusion in the Anglesey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the various, multi-period, often religious settlement features on Llanddwyn Island. In winter, when the greenery has died back, you can still see the outlines of many archaeological remains on the island from the air:

Mediaeval remains on Llanddwyn Island - evidence that
humans have found this place special over a long period of time.

A mile or so inland of Llanddwyn, one of the most interesting cultural symbols is a steel sculpture celebrating the marram grass weavers of the Newborough area. It's easily accessible, situated at the centre of a small car park at the end of 'Lon Filltir', but obviously overlooked by the vast majority of visitors making their way to the beach through the forest:

Remembering the marram grass weavers of Newborough.
This beautiful (well, so long as its freshly painted!) steel sculpture almost
reaches out to heaven and the spirits of the departed weavers.

I suppose we mustn't forget that Llanddwyn is home to a large variety of plant and animal life, some of it highly specialised to this wind-battered, salty environment. Perhaps one of the most hardy of all animals to be found here is the lowly barnacle, clinging tightly to the rock face, no matter how strong the waves. The large colonies of barnacles also make for a great photo opportunity:

'This Place is Getting Crowded'. Barnacles encrust
the rocks near Llanddwyn lighthouse.

So, there you are. A brief soujourn along the copious sands of Llanddwyn. It's not been easy to whittle hundreds of photos down to just seven. OK, eight. I can't resist including this one, which took some deft flying at low level to capture:

OK, it's a pretty postcard picture, but good, all the same!

I've recently started writing my own blog - Photonic Anglesey - which I hope will convey to ourselves and those outside interested in Anglesey something of what our island is all about. Sure, there'll be plenty of 'pretty' postcard images that show a beautiful beach and kitsurfing dudes. But I hope to reach beyond all that, to capture everyday moments, from a passing aircraft to a newly-wed couple outside the registry office to a photo, say, of our councillors looking stressed in a public meeting. If you think you have a good shot, and would like to share it on the blog, let me know at:

Please try to make your photos no more than 800kb in size, otherwise my mailbox will be full very quickly!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Barefaced Lying Lie of the Day

Tonight I am replacing my occasional series of 'Quotes of the Day' with 'Barefaced Lying Lie of the Day', starting with this corker courtesy of Labour's Pontypridd MP, Owen Smith, just now on 'Dragon's Eye':

"I'm fed up of hearing that lie repeated by the media and by our coalition government in Westminster. We have a deficit not because the legacy of the Labour Party, we have a deficit because we had a global recession which we acted to stop turning into a depression. We didn't have a deficit until 2008/2009 when the global recession struck. Its a lie and I'm fed up of hearing it."

For the benefit of Owen Smith here are Labour government borrowing figures (i.e. 'deficit') from 2002 until 2008, a period during which, according to Owen Smith, we had no deficit:

2002 - £19bn

2003 - £34bn
2004 - £36bn
2005 - £41bn
2006 - £30bn
2007 - £33bn

So, by my reckoning that makes a total of £193bn of cumulated debt ran up whilst Labour went on an unprecedented spending spree during the so called good years -- and long before the first cracks emerged in the UK economy when the government was forced to nationalise Northern Rock in February 2008. Northern Rock, incidentally, was a bank which failed not because of a global recession but mainly because it had seriously overstretched itself with aggressive mortgage sales based an overinflated house price bubble in this country -- not elsewhere in the world. So much for Owen Smith and "we didn't have a deficit until 2008/2009 when the global recession struck".

What we can conclude is this: after undoubtedly being more than partially responsible for running up the largest government debt since the second world war, Welsh Labour figures like Owen Smith now seem content to withdraw from the field and jeer at those trying to tackle it, whilst at the same time telling the rest of us that they had absolutely nothing to do with making the mess in the first place.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

How this week's announcements affect Ynys Môn

This week has seen not just the Comprehensive Spending Review but also the the first Strategic Defence Review since 1998 and some significant announcements on energy policy. Lets take a look at them in the whole and see how Ynys Môn has fared:

Energy Policy

Last week the Health and Safety Executive announced a two year extension to the lifetime of Wylfa's existing pair of reactors -- hugely good news for Anglesey. Furthermore, whereas Chris Huhne this week scrapped the Severn Barrier project in South Wales, Wylfa was given Preferred New Nuclear Site status. Ynys Môn couldn't have asked for more.

Strategic Defence Review

Although all three services will be pruned back, the Treasury has confirmed that one of Anglesey's largest employers, RAF Valley, will remain in service. So far so good.

Comprehensive Spending Review

- Welsh Assembly budget 

According to the actual Treasury documents released yesterday the Welsh Assembly budget (excluding depreciation figures) will rise from £13.3bn in 2010/11 to £13.5bn in 2014/15, which is equivalent to a cumulative reduction of -7.5 percent in real terms over that period. Considering that the average departmental cut over the same period was -19 percent, as Betsan Powys says, "there is no question that on the revenue, or day to day spending side, the settlement [for Wales] is better than the scenario they had been planning for". With cuts at less than 2 percent per annum it will now be up to Carwyn Jones and the rest of the Assembly Government to stop whinging and start doing what they are paid for: i.e. governing.

- Public Sector job losses

This may come as a surprise for many readers, but Anglesey actually has a rather well balanced economy in terms of not being overly reliant on just one sector:

Workplace employment by Industry - click to enlarge
source: WAG Regional Economic & Labour Market Profile, Aug 2010

Only 28% of working adults on Anglesey are employed by the public sector -- which makes Anglesey's much less reliant on the public sector than either Wales as a whole (35%) or even the United Kingdom (31%). As a consequence of this, Anglesey's economy will hopefully be far more resilient to any unfortunate public sector redundancies than anywhere else in North Wales bar Flintshire.

- Local Authority Spending

Due to cuts in local authority budgets, BBC News research suggests that Anglesey County Council's current budget shortfall of £3.3m will rise to £10m between 2011-14. It remains to see what effect this will have on council headcount and services, but we should note that this shortfall if true will be the joint smallest in Wales.

With respect to the council I would personally judge that the most significant cause for our concern is the ongoing instability and indecision caused by the political problems at Anglesey County Council. Not only is it not conducive to inward business investment, the absence of a clear planning policy framework is having serious consequences for potential developers with the effect of "locking jobs in filing cabinets". Without up-to-date planning policies Anglesey will continue to stagnate.

- Health

The coalition government has specifically ring-fenced health spending and will ensure it rises above inflation.  However the recently leaked McKinsey report revealed that that Welsh NHS is poorly managed politically, in addition it appears the formation of the Betsi Cadawaladr University Health Board has meant that all North Wales hospitals (including Ysbyty Gwynedd) are now suffering due to the significant budgetary problems at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. WAG says it may not have the budget to ensure that health spending Wales will be protected -- if so it will be time for it to reconsider whether Wales can continue to afford free prescriptions and so on.

- Incapacity Benefit

The current long-term sick who are paid incapacity benefit if they have paid National Insurance contributions will now only get their benefit for one year before being means tested and either losing all their benefit or moved on to a lower Job Seekers payment. The below diagram compares the current take up of out-of-work benefits throughout Wales (source DWP data here):

Precent of population on out-of-work benefits: click to enlarge

As you can see on these indices Anglesey is pretty much in the centre ground in Wales and faring far, far better than some of the South Wales valleys where almost a third of the population is on some kind of out-of-work benefits. Even so with 8.9 percent of Anglesey residents claiming incapacity benefit, we will have to see what effect this clamp down on incapacity benefit will have here.

- Pensions

By the year 2020 men and women will not receive the state pension until the age of 66. Pensions will be protected and a temporary increase in cold weather payments for pensioners will be made permanent and other payments including free eye tests, prescription charges and bus passes remain. As Anglesey has a larger than average population of retirees, this is a good thing for us.

- Overall

Obviously this is not a comprehensive review of all of yesterday's announcements and there are other spending categories (e.g. policing) for which I have not been able to track down accurate figures yet -- so if you have any more accurate information please do post it below.

As many readers will know I have argued for some time that in order to secure our future economic growth, action needs to be taken to reduce the deficit and tackle our national debt. Accordingly, including the contribution from the permanent levy on banks, I also accept that all regions must bear their fair share of that pain -- including Anglesey. My first impressions are that although yesterday's measures are tough, when we take those decisions in the round and include the recent announcements concerning Wylfa and RAF Valley, it does not superficially appear that Ynys Môn has been disproportionately hit. I could be wrong though and would be interested to hear if anyone does think that Anglesey will be disproportionately affected?

Carwyn Jones fails to practise what he preaches

I will be taking a closer look at how yesterday's Comprehensive Spending Review affects Ynys Môn later on, but I just wanted to make a quick post about First Minister Carwyn Jones' response to it, and in particular this remark:

"[The cuts] will undoubtedly hit Wales harder than other parts of the UK because we are already underfunded, as recently demonstrated by the Holtham Commission."

It certainly true that Gerry Holtham found that the Barnett Formula underfunds Wales to the tune of £300m per year in terms of need compared to an equivalent region in England. Lets put that into perspective though: the Assembly's budget for 2010/11 is £15.12bn -- this means that the £300m of underfunding is the equivalent of 1.9% of that budget. Don't misunderstand me: we definitely want that £300m, and indeed deserve it, but to claim that we in Wales are especially suffering because of this underfunding is an exaggeration -- especially as it is increasingly simply being used by Welsh Labour politicians as a crutch with which to beat the coalition government whilst claiming victimhood. If Mr Jones and his colleagues are so concerned about this underfunding, why didn't Labour use its recent 13 years in power in Westminster, plus a further 11 years in the Welsh Assembly, to rectify it? 

Secondly, it could be argued that to plead underfunding whilst at the same time paying for free prescriptions, free swimming, and free breakfasts for all primary school children sends out something of a mixed message to HM Treasury.

Finally, as it happens WAG has a kind of internal 'Barnett Formula' all of its own for allocating local government grants to Welsh councils -- however this is also based not on need but on on the size of the populations in each council area. As a consequence of this two of the poorest counties in the UK, Anglesey and Conwy, received the lowest settlement rise of just 1 percent from the Welsh Assembly Government this year, compared to, for example, a 2.9 percent rise for the far more prosperous Cardiff City. In actual fact Ynys Môn would have received even less than 1 percent if they had not been able to negotiate a special 'floor'. If the Welsh Assembly believes that Wales should be funded according to need rather than population, then perhaps it would be better if it practises what it preaches? 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Whats ailing Betsi?

The Welsh Florence
Nightingale is ill...
Another day, another Daily Post headline about possible cuts by the Betsi Cadawaladr University Health Board -- today it is about the possible closures of maternity services and children's wards. What are the causes of the need for cuts?

Do they lie with Parliament? Well, as the coalition government has pledged to ring-fence NHS spending and increase it with inflation, its hard to see that Westminster is immediately responsible.

The recently leaked McKinsey report (which WAG Health Minister Edwina Hart attempted to suppress) could provide some clues. It identified the following failures within the Welsh NHS, including that revelation that many initiatives were 'financially unaffordable':

  • Strategic objectives in the NHS were too numerous and not prioritised so "none or the wrong ones were implemented";
  • objectives were "politically unviable";
  • clinical staff did not "own the strategy";
  • implementation lacked accountability; and
  • initiatives were "financially unaffordable".

Another possibility was suggested by a member of the Druid family who works at Ysbyty Gwynedd, who said that many of the current financial problems are a consequence of large amounts of red ink at the Glan Clwyd Hospital. In the past these budget deficits would have been localised in each Local Health Board, but now that the whole of North Wales has been combined to create Betsi Cadawaladr, all of the North Wales Hospitals are having to be pared back to balance the books.

I wonder if any readers with knowledge of these matters can give us some greater insight?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Wales Audit Office on Anglesey Council: "Yeah but, no but..."

The Wales Audit Office has published their Preliminary Corporate Assessment of Anglesey County Council --  a document which they state is "designed to answer the question: ‘Are the Council’s arrangements likely to secure continuous improvement?’".

Their answer can be paraphrased as, "yeah but, no but...", or as they put it in fluent bureaucratese:

"The Council has responded positively to Ministerial intervention but much work remains to implement plans and then embed the modernisation of its corporate arrangement and to assure the sustainability of improvement."

They go on to say:

"14 The Council’s political leaders and senior managers should therefore draw some satisfaction from the progress made to date, but should be under no illusion that most of the improvement agenda lies ahead; structural and cultural changes remain to be tested in taking the difficult decisions needed in order to address that agenda."

Despite that some areas of improvement have been singled out for particular praise:

"- the working relationship between the Executive and senior management has been restored; and
- procedural improvements to the work of the Planning Committee have increased the transparency of decision-making."

Anyway, here are some of the report highlights (and lowlights) in bite-sized chunks arranged by topic:

On the conduct of councillors:

"22 The conduct of councillors in meetings has generally improved, with less personalised animosity than in the past. Group Leaders have accepted responsibility for the behaviour of their members and have acted robustly when necessary. The action of Group Leaders introduces a necessary element of self regulation into the conduct of Council business.
23 There have also been constitutional changes, including the formation of a new scrutiny committee structure and agreement that opposition groups should chair certain committees. This agreement has the potential to reduce the ‘winner takes all’ culture that had previously tended to marginalise opposition groups and had contributed to the frequent realignment of political allegiances in order to gain power."

On the expulsion of certain Councillors and rifts from the past:

"25 ... there have also been setbacks which have undermined the Council Leader’s position. For the most part, these setbacks have been handled decisively, with two councillors being expelled from what was, until June 2010, the Leader’s group. Other Group Leaders have supported the Leader and the improvement programme by agreeing not to accept the expelled councillors as members of their groups.
26 However, in June 2010, the largest political group within the Council broke in two, with only a small minority of its members remaining loyal to the Leader. This rift suggests that the problems of the past are not yet resolved. Thirty-six of the Council’s 40 members now form six political groups, with the remaining four members being unaffiliated. Four of the six groups now comprise competing factions of independent councillors.
34 The improved group discipline has contributed to better standards of behaviour and quality of debate ... However, there remains some resentment among members of the opposition. This resentment has contributed to the fracturing of the largest political group, with only a small minority remaining loyal to the Leader ... The stability and sustainability of the initial improvements therefore remain in doubt."

On the 'Terms of Engagement' of the Alliance:

"29 These Terms of Engagement have proved controversial. Members of the opposition groups have reported that they are reluctant to express views that are contrary to those of the Executive in case they are branded as troublemakers. Opposition group leaders have received assurance that the aim of the Terms of Engagement is not to stifle legitimate political debate. However, it is too soon to be confident that these new political arrangements are sustainable. The continued oversight of the Recovery Board and the possibility of further Ministerial intervention promote stability but, without these, there is a significant risk that there would be further political changes, absorbing more officer time and deflecting the Council from addressing the issues it faces in modernising its services."

Sections on the interim MD, David Bowles, read like the WAO wants to have his babies:

"30 ... Councillors and senior officers alike have acknowledged the positive role he has played in setting in motion the Council’s recovery.
31 ...The Interim Managing Director has shown both shrewdness and tenacity in his approach to his task.... 
33. The Interim Managing Director has rightly identified the need for councillors themselves to take ownership of this process if improvement is to be sustained, and that the role of the leaders of political groups in maintaining momentum is the key to success. In doing so, he has provided strong support to the comparatively inexperienced Council Leader. With this support, the Leader has taken decisive action against two of his group members and has gained the support of other group leaders to help enforce his decisions. Cross-party support for difficult decisions such as this represents significant progress in developing a Council with the capacity to regulate the conduct of its own members."

On how councillors view their roles:

"35 Members of the Recovery Board have interviewed almost all councillors and have found that many of the views and perceptions that prevailed at the time of the Corporate Governance Inspection persist. Most councillors continue to see their primary role as representing their wards rather than taking a wider, more strategic view of the island as a whole. At the time of the interviews, there remained a widespread perception that councillors were selected for positions of responsibility and the associated allowances on a ‘grace and favour’ basis and without due regard for their skills and experience. The subsequent decision to allocate the chair of some scrutiny committees to opposition members goes some way towards addressing this perception."

On the need for Councillors to issue manifestos at election time:

"49 ... Election results suggest that, like many of its councillors, the island’s public also has a traditional view of local government. There are only two women among the Council’s 40 members. The predominance of independent councillors grouped in increasing numbers of small factions hinders the development of a more modern view because voters have little knowledge of what the various groups stand for at election time or between elections. Voters appear to reward those councillors who have a track record of delivering benefits for their wards and for individuals within it. "

On planning and lack of an LDP:

"51 The Council has made significant progress in improving procedural elements in the way in which it determines planning applications. However, this progress is undermined by the absence of a clear planning policy framework. The Council has neither a Unitary Development Plan nor a Local Development Plan in place, and therefore relies on a range of outdated policies to underpin its decision making. The recent agreement, supported by a member of the Recovery Board, to work jointly with Gwynedd Council in producing a Local Development Plan offers a potential solution, overcoming the Council’s limited capacity to undertake such work alone."

On the council website:

"58 Despite recent improvements to the Council’s website, too much of its content is out-of-date and cumbersome to use for members of the public wishing to access services or to make comments or complaints on-line. The Council has identified the need to improve its website as a corporate priority."

You can read the whole report below:
Isle of Anglsesy County Council Preliminary Corporate Assess Rnglish

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Huhne says 'yes' to Wylfa, still says 'no' to subsidies (updated)

Following on from the good news earlier this week that the existing reactor at Wylfa will have its life extended for two more years, the Sunday Telegraph reports that the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne will announce this week that Wylfa B will be among those sites approved by the Government for a new nuclear power station.

However, this announcement still does not mean that Wylfa B will be built -- it merely provides Government permission for the private sector developer, in this case Horizon Nuclear Power, to build a nuclear power station at that location if they believe there is a viable business case for it. And this is unfortunately were the problems for Horizon start because the Government has not softened its stance on nuclear subsidies: there will still be no government money available to support either the construction or future de-commissioning of any new plants. Horizon has repeatedly asserted that modern nuclear reactors are far more expensive to build than conventional coal and gas-fired stations and therefore need some financial support to be both viable and competitive over the long term. In order to get around the "no government subsidy" policy they have suggested a consumer-funded levy, i.e. a government sanctioned surcharge collected from all energy bills -- however this was seemingly rejected by Chris Huhne last month in favour of simply setting a "minimum carbon price floor" which would make cheaper but higher polluting energy (i.e. that made from coal and gas) more expensive, thus making expensive but cleaner energy (such as nuclear and other renewable sources) more competitive.

Will Horizon be able to proceed on this basis? We don't know -- and as I wrote last month the two German companies (E.on and RWE npower) which own Horizon will anyway be hit by a new German tax on nuclear fuel rods from next year which will anyway seriously impact their profits. As Islanders we will have to now wait with crossed-fingers and see what pronouncements Horizon make following Chris Huhne's official statement next week.

That said, as the excellent Dylan Jones-Evans writes today, there is plenty that the Welsh Assembly Government can be doing in the meantime to move things forward:

"[T]his could mean that there is a great opportunity for Wales to become a real centre of expertise in this sector, and it is now up to the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that European Structural Funding can be used effectively to help build up value added projects for the new power station. For example, helping to create an energy technology park around the new development and ensuring that the skilled workforce needed for the power station and its construction are sourced locally are just two simple examples on how the project could benefit the Anglesey economy.
I fully expect WAG to announce a detailed strategy for supporting the Wylfa B development and how it will benefit the local economy over the next few months."

Yes, WAG, we will be watching and waiting...
Albert Owen questioning
Chris Huhne

UPDATE: With thanks to 'Avatar' who spotted it, I recommend that interested parties watch this clip (from around 11.41 onwards) of Albert Owen last month questioning Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, on what does and does now constitute a subsidy for the nuclear industry. To be fair to Albert he asks some good questions -- but does momentarily withdraw back into his famous 'Albert Fantasyland' when he tries to claim that Labour were not against Nuclear subsidies (a tactic he also deployed during the general election) - they were.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Police Authority Chief denies "twisting" results of elected commissioner survey

In response to this post and this post regarding flaws in the North Wales Police Authority's survey on the coalition government's plans to introduce police commissioners, Mr Tal Michael, Chief Executive of the NWPA has now responded in full by commenting on this blog:

"North Wales Police Authority has not received this correspondence. Get in touch and I will be happy to look into what went wrong. Our contact details are as set out on our website.
We have not misrepresented anything. The basis of the survey was made explicit: working with the other Police Authorities in Wales we have given an opportunity for the public to express a view. The timetable for consultation was very short, but this is the fault of the Home Office. We submitted interim results by the Home Office deadline, but then we re-opened the survey so that others can have an opportunity. We have now closed the survey and South Wales Police Authority will be analysing the results so that we can publish them.
There is a difference between consultation and research. “Opinion polls” or “Representative Surveys” use sampling techniques to find out what the general public think. Statistical theory suggests that by setting quotas for gender, age, work status, social class and spreading those selected for interview randomly across an area, we are able to question about 1,000 people across an area and find out what they think with a margin of error up to 2 or 3 percentage points either way.
Consultation is when we invite people to express a view. By its very nature, consultation attracts more responses from those people who take an interest in a particular subject. Those responding will not necessarily be representative of the wider public. 
We never suggested that this was an opinion poll. The press release was explicit: we have invited people to express a view on the Government's proposals and offered to pass this on to Government. The all-Wales analysis undertaken by South Wales Police Authority does not twist the results - we said they showed that "According to the survey, 41 per cent were opposed to the introduction of a commissioner while less than 30 per cent were in favour". You have misinterpreted the results and said that 45 percent are either in favour or somewhat in favour. It would be equally valid to say that 56% of respondents were either against or somewhat against. We have given full information on the respondents including where they live, gender and ethnicity. The information given on ethnicity is the same as the information given on gender.
North Wales Police Authority has been clear about its own views on the Government's proposals. We are not opposed, but we do have serious concerns. We recognise that there is room for improvement and we are open to change, but we believe that changes should be focused on ensuring high quality, accountable policing, with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders in agreeing policing priorities and agree that this is best achieved through governance arrangements which promote a consensual, involving approach with appropriate safeguards. See for full details."

Whereas I thank Mr Michael for getting in touch via this blog, and am happy to accept his description of the poll as a 'consultation' rather than a 'representative survey', I continue to take issue with this part of his reply:

"The all-Wales analysis undertaken by South Wales Police Authority does not twist the results - we said they showed that "According to the survey, 41 per cent were opposed to the introduction of a commissioner while less than 30 per cent were in favour". You have misinterpreted the results and said that 45 percent are either in favour or somewhat in favour. It would be equally valid to say that 56% of respondents were either against or somewhat against."

Mr Michael's argument entirely rests on how you interpret the following results:

My interpretation is that the number of respondents either "in favour" (29 percent) or "somewhat in favour" (16 percent) comes to a total of 45 percent -- a larger number than those against (41 percent).  However, according to Mr Michael, the pinkish wedge in the top left labeled "somewhat" does not mean "somewhat in favour" but actually "neither in favour or against". Accordingly Mr Michael asserts that it is equally valid to say that the total number of respondents against the proposal is 57 percent, including "against" (41 percent) and "somewhat against" (16 percent). 

I'm sorry, Mr Michael, but this is clearly not the case. Even your own Executive Summary of the survey (page 2) states that the 16 percent figure represents "somewhat in favour":

If, as you assert, I have "misinterpreted the results", then I'm afraid that the author of your own report has also "misinterpreted the results". 

It seems clear to me therefore that my interpretation is the correct one and more respondents favour the proposal for elected police commissioners than are against it -- in direct contrast to how the results are presented. I will leave it to readers to decide whether the SWPA and NWPA have tried to "twist" the results of the survey to create a false impression of the level of support for the Police Commissioner proposals in Wales.

I also note, Mr Michael, that your reply does not address the fact that there was only 82 respondents to the poll from North Wales -- yet following a briefing by the NWPA this is how the Daily Post reported the interim survey results on 18th September:

"OPPOSITION is growing to the idea of having an elected commissioner in charge of police in North Wales. The interim results of a survey show a majority of people are against the proposal which is part of a package of reforms being put forward by the Government"

Can you kindly explain how a survey of just 82 people throughout North Wales -- which shows even according to your own executive summary that more people are either "in favour" or "somewhat in favour" than against -- gets written up as "OPPOSITION is growing to the idea of having an elected commissioner in charge of police in North Wales"?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

++ Fighting, and Winning, for Anglesey ++

The Druid: Best Political Blog
in Wales
I have just learned that this blog was named as the Best Political Blog at tonight's inaugural Wales Blog Awards in Cardiff. I am both delighted and somewhat surprised -- little did I think ten short months ago when I started penning my thoughts about the problems facing Ynys Môn that 'The Druid' would end up attracting either the following that it has, or winning such an award as this.

As I believe is traditional on occasions like this, I send my congratulations to all the other blogs which were shortlisted for this category, in particular Syniadau -- I may not often agree with MH's conclusions, but am always in awe of the depth of his knowledge and his passion for the nationalist cause (not to mention the length of some of his posts!). Using this chance I would also like to highlight and thank some other political blogs which inspired me to start writing, such as Dylan Jones-Evans, Valley's Mam, A Change of Personnel, Blog Menai, and also Borthlas, John Dixon's blog. Between them they represent a veritable panorama of political views -- and are always well written, informative and entertaining.

How I intend to celebrate
If this blog had a founding ethos then it would probably be that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant". I have always thought that if enough light was shone onto the goings-on in the murky gloom of the Council Chamber in Llangefni then it could only have a beneficial effect on the behaviour of some of our county councillors. From that point of view I can only welcome the extra publicity (and, hopefully, light) that this award may bring. However just being critical is not enough - through this blog I have also tried to marshall the combined wisdom of literally hundreds of Anglesey residents who contributed to the writing of the People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn. I believe it contains a plethora of good ideas and policies which could help turn around both the economic and political fortunes of this Island -- I hope that this award will now give it added impetus.

Anyway, must dash, its almost midnight and I have to knock up a wicker-man to burn in celebration...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wylfa granted two year reprieve

The Health and Safety Executive, which comprises the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, has agreed that the current nuclear reactor in Wylfa can continue generating electricity for another two years. Wylfa first began generating electricity in 1971 and, following two previous extensions, was scheduled to close down in December this year -- it will now continue until sometime in 2012, preserving the 650 jobs at the plant and and estimated 500 more at various suppliers.

Needless to say this is excellent news for Anglesey -- it would be hugely embarrassing if the 'Energy Island' wasn't actually generating any energy! Most importantly this extension will now close the gap between the eventual decommissioning of the current reactor and the hopeful commencement of work on Wylfa B -- meaning that nuclear workers may not be forced to leave the island to seek other work, and local suppliers will be better placed to survive the wait until Wylfa B. Lets all now hope that the good nuclear news keeps coming.

UPDATE 10:27: With dreary predictability Albert Owen is now claiming credit for the extension. He tells the Daily Post, "I have led on this campaign and the news is good for Anglesey and good for the whole country".

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Can county councillors be recalled? (updated)

A Bodffordd resident has written in to ask whether it is possible to 'recall' county councillors -- i.e. have them removed prior to scheduled local elections. Apparently at last night's public meeting to discuss the village's continued resistance to the infamous biodigester, several attendees started calling for the county councillor for the ward of Bodffordd, Plaid Cymru's William I. Hughes, to be somehow deselected. Residents feel that Cllr Hughes, who did not attend last night's meeting -- or indeed any of the public meetings held in his ward to counter the biodigester -- is no longer acting as their representative and they do not want to have to wait two more years until the next local elections to get rid of him. They are also irritated that he lives in Trefor -- some distance from both Bodffordd and its future biodigester.

The ability for local residents to be able to recall non-performing county councillors strikes me as just the sort of measure which could help focus the minds of some of Anglesey's more intransigent councillors. Unfortunately according to my reading of the Anglesey County Council's constitution there is no way local residents can force such a recall. Or is there? Perhaps some of my learned readers could let me know whether there is another way of achieving the same aim?

Also, if you're reading this Prof. Closs Stephens (and I've heard you are an occasional reader), please let me urge you to use your current power as chair of the recovery board to have the constitution amended so as to include a recall clause -- and in so doing improve the chances of a sustainable recovery once the board has decamped.
In the meantime, I'll be adding a recall mechanism clause to our People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn.

UPDATE: There seems to be some confusion regarding what a recall actually is. It does not allow a small number of dissatisfied people to remove a democratically elected representative -- it merely allows for a by-election to be forced if a sufficient percentage of local residents sign a petition. The incumbent is then freely able to campaign for his or her re-election. As such a recall should be seen as a measure which ensures that democratically-elected politicians are kept on their toes. For those who say a recall is somehow undemocratic, let me remind you that a recall mechanism was included in Aristotle's Constitution of Athens.

North Wales Police Authority: no response (updated)

Actually we do: 45% were in favour and 41% opposed
Just over a month ago I wrote about the North Wales Police Authority's shameful misrepresentation of the results of an statistically invalid internet survey which they conducted together with the South Wales Police Authority to supposedly gauge the Welsh public's opinion on elected police commissioners. Despite only 884 people taking part (and only 82 of them coming from North Wales) the NWPA then released their interim findings to the Daily Post, stating categorically that residents of North Wales didn't want a elected police commissioner -- except that they actually did, with 45 percent either in favour or somewhat in favour, compared to 41 percent who were against. In so doing the NWPA were clearly guilty of wilfully misrepresenting the results of a sham public consultation in order to oppose the new policy and protect both the status quo and their own sinecures.

In response a regular commenter to this blog then contacted both the NWPA and SWPA by letter asking them to comment on why they had released the results of a survey which breaks so many elements of good practise on polling, namely:

"(1) The sample is not representative of the population because it is self-selecting. In other words, only those who feel they have an opinion on the topic will trouble themselves to respond. There is some background information gathered about respondents, but this is not complete, and crucially lacks information on socio-economic background. There is therefore no robust means of correcting for the sample that you do gather.
(2) The poll asks for the respondents' sex, but the responses are not broken down by sex. In contrast, and perhaps in a nod to political correctness, the fraction of 'ethnic minority' backgrounds is quoted (but not how they 'vote' on the poll).
(3) The response rate per head of population is exceptionally low; Anglesey (population ca. 70,000), has only 7 respondents - 1 in 10,000. Even as a total, 884 responses is well below the accepted minimum representative (which it anyway is not) poll size of about 1000 respondents.
(4) You do not provide the margin of error (the confidence intervals) for the poll. If it were quoted, the confidence in the results would appear to be low.
(5) There may be bias in the questions asked, and so stray into a 'push-poll'. It is not clear who drew up the poll, but it is clear why it is was drawn. From the general content of the report so far, there seems to be a bias against the concept of elected commissioners within the NWPA."

The response almost one month later?

NWPA: no acknowledgement, no response.
SWPA: acknowledgement received, no further response.

So there you are: you can choose between (a) a number of unelected appointees/quangocrats who clearly do not feel they have to respond to reasonable questions from members of the general public; or (b) an elected commissioner who will be held directly accountable to residents for police priorities and performance. I know which option I would choose.

On a side note, the acknowledgement from the SWPA said that the letter would be passed on to the Chief Constable -- which begs the question of just how independent the Police Authorities really are. Why would the chief constable of South Wales need to be informed about a complaint regarding the methodology of an internet poll carried out by a body supposedly at arms length from the Police?

Monday, 11 October 2010

"The pong is awful"

John Craven at the Ludlow biodigester
Those are the words used on yesterday's edition of the BBC's 'Country Tracks' by veteran presenter John Craven to describe the stench made by the methane biodigester plant in Ludlow -- the model for the planned biodigester to be built in Bodffordd. In fact Ecoparc Môn, the company pushing the plans, organised a trip for councillors and some residents to see the very same Ludlow biodigester back in 2009 in order to allay their fears about smells -- and now John Craven has confirmed what was long been suspected by Bodffordd villagers: that such a plant will produce an 'awful pong'.

Proponents of biodigesters have always been at pains to point out that the anaerobic digesters themselves do not produce any smells as they are completely sealed -- however this appears to be a red herring. As was made amply clear from yesterday's 'Country Tracks' programme (view it here, forward to around 20m15s) it is the 'staging area' where the food waste is delivered and shredded before being fed into the biodigesters which actually produces the smells.

As the council has granted planning permission and the campaigners against it have been refused a judicial review, there seems little more that Bodffordd villagers can do to prevent the scheme going ahead. That notwithstanding there will be a public meeting this evening from 7.30pm at the Bodffordd Community Centre, which is part of the primary school building. All interested parties are asked to attend.

The issue at stake here is not that people are opposed to the concept of turning food waste into energy; people are opposed to the frankly stupid decision to site the plant at Mona Industrial Estate, where prevailing winds will blow odours over the nearby village of Bodffordd. It would have made far more sense to locate the plant next to either an existing council tip, next to the abattoir in Gaerwen (where the proponents of the scheme plan to acquire most of the food waste anyway) or on the edge of the island where the smells could be safely left to waft over towards Ireland. As Anglesey County Council struggles to regain the trust of residents, it is foolish decisions like these which will continue to prove that the council is not being run in the best interests of Islanders.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Carwyn Jones and Alex Salmond choose the easy path

The first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have issued a joint statement attacking the UK government's spending plans. The following is the important part of their joint declaration:

"The proposals to cut public spending to such an extent run the risk of stalling any recovery.
Private sector demand remains fragile and access to finance continues to be constrained.
The current plans for fiscal consolidation could therefore have a significant and lasting negative impact on the economy, including people's jobs, which would undermine the very efforts to address the UK's fiscal position.
We believe that promoting economic growth is the best way to restore the health of our public finances and this must be our overriding priority."

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, has been spearheading today's announcement and has taken every opportunity to lampoon the coalition's spending plans on TV and radio news programmes. I would remind him of two things:

  • Firstly, according to the Holtham Report, whereas Wales is underfunded by the Treasury to the tune of £300m a year compared to an equivalent English Region, Scotland by the same calculations is currently overfunded by a whopping £4.2bn per year. This means that as we move into the belt tightening phase, Scotland starts from a better supported position than any other region in the UK.
  • Secondly, if Alex Salmond thinks that the coalition's programme to reduce spending is too severe he has recourse to a very simple means of offsetting the effects of those the cuts in Scotland: he can use the tax-varying powers granted to the Scottish Parliament to increase income tax in Scotland by up to 3p in the pound in order to fund a reduced pace of cuts. Unfortunately Mr Salmond doesn't have the balls to unilaterally adjust income tax in Scotland as he knows the Scottish electorate wouldn't tolerate it -- therefore he's content to demand that the elected Westminster government (which is already overfunding Scotland by £4.2bn) should abandon their much telegraphed plans and instead raise taxes throughout the UK so as to protect the Scottish public services which Mr Salmond himself is too politically cowardly to take action to protect.

Of course unlike Scotland, the Welsh Assembly has no such tax varying powers and therefore Welsh first minster, Carwyn Jones, is able to make the same argument as Mr Salmond safe in the knowledge that he is not in anyway accountable to the people of Wales for the amount of tax they pay. However he is responsible for how efficiently that public money is spent -- and if WAG was a paragon of efficiency and cost-effectiveness I would have great sympathy with Carwyn's position. However we know that public money in Wales has not been well spent and the recent problems highlighted by the leaked McKinsey report into the running of the Welsh NHS are a case in point, as was the decision to maintain for ten years the £50K+ salaries of hundreds of NHS executives who were found to be surplus to requirements following the last Welsh NHS reorganisation. Therefore, although I fully support any calls for the Barnett Formula to be amended as per the Holtham recommendations, I would argue that the first task of the Welsh Assembly Government is to prove that it can manage public money more efficiently before taking the easy option of simply blaming the coalition government's spending plans.

On a related note, I have argued previously (here and here) that the Welsh Assembly should have tax varying powers in order to, amongst other reasons, make our Welsh politicians more accountable to the Welsh electorate. However as per the example set by the Scotland Parliament, which has had such tax varying powers since it was formed but has chosen never to utilise them, I suspect that a Labour/Plaid Cymru-controlled WAG also would probably just take the politically cowardly route of not using them either. The fact is if you continue to do the same old things, you will continue to get the same old results -- its time for some new and radical thinking in Wales if we are to radically improve our economic situation.