Sunday, 28 February 2010
In other words: it would be far better for Assembly Members to prove that they can do the little things well (i.e. the already devolved powers) before wasting time seeking a referendum on further powers.
In the meantime, the Druid wishes all of his readers a happy Saint David's Day - enjoy your cawl!
Friday, 26 February 2010
Following the disappointment which was the Question Time broadcast from Cardiff last night - without a single question put about the situation in Wales - the Druid has been pondering what questions should have been asked to a panel of Welsh politicians. Here are his suggestions:
- Is Peter Hain correct to say Wales is a "wealthy country"? And is Rwanda the right country to be benchmarking ourselves against?
- Why is it that despite spending more money per head on economic development than any other region in the UK, Wales still remains at or near the bottom of economic health indicators such as GVA, unemployment and business failures?
- Wales used to be known as a nation of farmers. Why is it that the contribution of agriculture to the Welsh economy has declined by 68% over the past ten years compared to just a 7% decline elsewhere in the UK?
- Is Plaid Cymru's election pledge to increase the state pension by 30% credible in the current economic climate - or is it just electioneering?
- With even the Department of Energy and Climate Change predicting energy blackouts by 2015, should the Government have begun replacing Britain's ageing power stations, including the Wylfa reactor, earlier?
- Does the fact that the Welsh Assembly has announced yet another 'Economic Renewal Programme" with another round of consultations with businesses mean that all the billions spent to date have been wasted?
- Is the deepest recession in 60 years the right time for the Welsh Assembly to spend time debating a referendum for more powers?
And finally, to replace the ridiculous John Terry question we had last night, I would suggest this alternative:
- Was the Welsh Rugby Union right to drop Andy Powell from the squad for his antics after the Scotland match?
If you have any other suggestions for questions, the Druid would love to hear them...
met with the full Council in Llangefni on Wednesday to lay down the law. Apparently a minority of Councillors are still interfering with Council appointments, showing indiscipline, poor behaviour and refusing to make the changes necessary to turn the Council around.
“Focusing on personal rivalries like this is self indulgent in any circumstances", said Sargeant.
“Doing so despite the numerous and pressing problems that this island faces is even worse. It is a betrayal of Anglesey’s citizens and communities, who deserve action and leadership, not petty bickering.”
He told them anyone obstructing recovery should be dealt with “severely”.
Mr Sargeant added it was time for the majority of good councillors to stand up and isolate bad behaviour and prove they are “worthy” of the trust placed in them by the electorate.
He said: “I know that many of you are committed to putting Anglesey first and you must now stand up to those members who do not share these priorities.”
For the whole horrible story of how Anglesey County Council got itself into this current mess, read here. The Druid is frankly amazed by how many warnings Anglesey's Councillors need - the sooner their numbers are reduced thanks to the Boundaries Commission changes the better.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Miserable Old Fart) makes a good point in comments below the Druid's last post, regarding the make-up of regional panels on the BBC's Question Time programme. During recent editions of the programme from Scotland and Northern Island, the panels were entirely composed of politicians from or with positions directly related to those regions. For example in Northern Island, the panel consisted of:
- Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State for Northern Island
- Sammy Wilson, DUP MP and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for East Antrim
- Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast
- David Trimble, ex leader of the UUP and first First Minister of Northern Island
- Marget Ritchie, SDLP leader and MLA for South Down
- Jim Allister, former MEP and member of Traditional Unionist Voice
Thanks to the entirely Irish composition of the panel the programme allowed for particularly in-depth and lively discussions relating to issues important to Northern Island residents.
This evening, however, Question Time will be broadcast from Cardiff and the panelists will include:
- Peter Hain (Labour), Secretary of State for Wales
- Dr Liam Fox (Conservative), Shadow Defence Secretary - the Druid has nothing against Liam Fox, but he is Scottish by birth and has no particular Wales remit. Would it not have been better for the Conservatives to field either Nick Bourne or Cheryl Gillan?
- Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru), MP for Meirionydd Nant Conwy
- Nigel Farage (UKIP), MEP - again I have nothing in particular against Farage, but he is an MEP for the South East of England and is standing for election to Parliament in Speaker Bercow's constituency of Buckingham. So, nothing to do with Wales again.
- Janet Street-Porter, "journalist" - Seriously, why?
- and presumably there will be one more Lib-Dem panelist who has yet to be announced - Kirsty Williams would be a good choice.
So only two panelists out of six have any specific remit to speak for Wales. Thats not good enough and the BBC is doing Wales and Welsh voters a disservice in not putting together a 'Welsh' panel as they have done for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Lord knows Wales has enough problems which our elected representatives need to be grilled about.
UPDATE: So there was no sixth panellist nor a single question about Wales. The Druid was hoping that someone would at least have brought up Peter Hain's stupid Rwanda remark.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
No sooner had I finished writing my last post on the Welsh Assembly Government's failure in terms of economic development than I read this piece in WalesOnline by the Llanelli-based Tinopolis media group's Chairman, Ron Jones. All I can say is that I agree with every word and it deserves to be reproduced in full here:
THE Welsh Assembly Government has decided that we need an Economic Renewal Programme.
The first objective of which is to “To better understand the structure of the Welsh economy, its key characteristics and drivers and gain consensus on the vision for the future economy of Wales”.
This is followed by the usual clichés of “renewed approach to economic development”, “meet the needs of new and existing businesses”, “stronger and more sustainable economy”, and “increase the prosperity and long-term well-being of the people”.
Cliches generally have a grain of truth but when we read that our government has yet to understand the structure of our economy we should be worried. I sense that we are on the brink of one of those dispiriting “something must be done” moments in Welsh history.
After the billions of pounds spent and the efforts of the many hundreds of WDA and now WAG staff over so many years is this as far as we’ve got? Our politicians announce that the answer to our economic problems is another strategy. Probably nobody outside WAG could even guess at the number of strategies, re-launches and fresh beginnings Wales has suffered over the last decades.
To avoid facing up to the failure of all previous strategies our government has declared this to be year zero. We should now pretend that changes in the world economy occasion a re-focussing of our efforts, building on the excellent work and success of the past.
Our economic past is not history, we are living in it. The business model for Wales has been broken for years and we need to acknowledge that before we can move on. Wales has not had an easy ride. It had imposed on it an economic model ill-fitted to the modern world. We were once a land of entrepreneurs. We had farmers, merchants and manufacturers who served their markets and sustained the economy. We weren’t rich but we survived. Governments in London weren’t about to waste money on the Welsh and they didn’t.
Since those days Wales has suffered nationalisation, privatisation, government to whom Wales was a nuisance, unworldly trade unions and our, the people’s, unwillingness to face reality. All have conspired to create not a post-industrial society but a society at ease with living off a public purse to which it makes an insufficient contribution.
Just consider a few of the things we have allowed to happen. Nationalisation removed our corporate base and moved control to London with a profound impact on the business infrastructure. Successive governments over 50 years supported failing or doomed industries. Nicholas Edwards saw Wales as Greater Cardiff. Our WDA ended up pursuing any company prepared to move operations to Wales whilst ignoring indigenous business. Our well-funded universities have made virtually no contribution to our economy. A bloated public sector hoovers up young talent with better salaries and less risk.
The great levers of the economy are outside Wales, but we were entitled to hope that devolution would at least bring an understanding of our economy, empathy for what our country needs.
Instead, post-devolution we have created the foundation of an economic nightmare. The public sector stole Objective 1. We lost the wasteful hundreds of the WDA only for them to reappear within WAG, now hidden in a new fog of bureaucracy and hidden from public view.
The petty regulation beloved of Tory and Labour governments in London has been accepted and gold-plated. Crucially, our people are poorer now than any in the UK and falling further behind.
Faced with this, searching for a new strategy is an insult to the people of Wales. Something should be done is an empty phrase but perhaps WAG should at long last stop analysing and consulting. We are at the stage where anything is better than that.
According to Betsan Powys, Ron Jones's Tinopolis media group is bidding to produce the news on ITV in Wales. All I can say is I hope he gets the contract - it's about time that a critical Welsh media held our unimaginative and incompetent Welsh politicians to account rather than just regurgitating their press releases!
told delegates that Wales is being 'slightly' shortchanged by the 30-year old Barnett formula used by Whitehall to allocate public funding to the various regions of the United Kingdom.
Gerry Holtham it should be noted is the Chair of the Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales set up by the Welsh Assembly Government and has been pondering these funding issues since the autumn of 2008. According to his initial report, whereas Wales currently receives £112 for every £100 spent in England, it should be receiving £114. This adds up to a shortfall of approximately £300 million per annum compared to an equivalent English region. To you and I that may sound like a lot, but to put it into context it is a mere
As Plaid Cymru's electoral appeal depends on nurturing a sense of victimhood amongst Welsh voters by suggesting that Wales is somehow being unfairly treated by the bogeymen of "London parties", the fact that the Barnett formula is actually performing "within the tolerances of the system" is probably not the news they wanted to hear. However, that didn't stop Plaid Cymru AMs such as Helen Mary Jones immediately calling foul, claiming "it's about us getting our fair share. It isn't about asking for more". Plaid Cymru is in essence a socialist party (as admitted by Elfyn Llwyd MP during his recent interview with Andrew Neil) therefore the redistribution of 'more of other people's money' will always be the answer to any problem. For example, Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has just today called for the UK Treasury to set up a Venture Capital Fund for Wales. However the Druid is not sure that what Wales actually needs right now is more money.
Why not? Well, last week the Institute of Welsh Affairs (of which Gerry Holtham is a member of the management board) published an article on Wales's economic competitiveness arguing that a lack of policy making ability is holding back the private sector. Exhibit A for their claim is the following comparison of spend per capita on economic development by the various regions of the UK:
As you can see, the Welsh Assembly spends more on economic development that any other part of the UK, yet Wales still remains at or near the bottom of many economic indicators such as GVA, unemployment and business failures. As such sustained investment has yielded so little return there is obviously something fundamentally wrong with the development policies currently being implemented by the Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition in Cardiff. But bad policy making is just the start, the article also goes on to say:
Worryingly, the high levels of economic development spending in Wales are not matched by clear lines of public accountability, making any assessment of real progress virtually impossible. At the time of the 2005 quango reforms, the Welsh Government claimed that the mergers would enhance accountability. In reality, society’s capacity for effective scrutiny has actually been much reduced. Unlike regional development agencies in England and Scotland, the business plans and evaluations of the Welsh Government’s Department for Economy and Transport are not made publicly available.So not only is the money being poorly spent, the WAG is making it as difficult as possible for you and I to see and evaluate what is being spent where.
There is no question that the Welsh economy is currently in its direst straights since the 1980s but the answer to its economic woes is not more money but a fundamental rethink of the Assembly's economic development strategy coupled with more openness and transparency.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Dylan Rees: apparently making a difference
“One message that we have to send to the London parties loud and clear is that they should never ignore the voices of the people. In my area, we’ve had a Labour MP who voted to close our Post Offices. Instead of investing in our community facilities, they have stripped them down – showing a lack of ambition and lack of understanding of the way we live. The last thing any community throughout Wales needs now is another London party MP who will simply go there and do as they’re told.”So despite the closure of companies like Anglesey Aluminium, Eaton Electric, Peboc Eastman, Octel, and the downsizing at Vion causing thousands of job losses plus the decimation of agriculture on the island, the worse thing Dylan Rees can find to say about Anglesey's Labour MP is that he voted to close Post Offices. This may come as no surprise to regular readers who will know that Dylan has a bit of a hard-on for Post Offices, as you can see here, here, here and here and so on ad nauseum. Frankly its beginning to look like Dylan focuses on Post Office closures because, as a man who has been paid from the public purse all his life, Post Offices are as much about business as he understands.
Of course the alternative reason for Rees's fetishisation of Post Offices to the exclusion of all other problems on the island would be because to highlight them would be extremely damaging to Plaid Cymru leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones - who happens to have been the Member of Parliament for Anglesey from 1987-2001 and also Assembly Member for Anglesey since 1999.
To paraphrase Dylan Rees: the last thing Anglesey needs now is a Plaid MP who (a) has no business experience; and (b) is unable to discuss the island's real problems because it will make his Boss look bad.
Anglesey Aluminium and Corus - both died of the same causes
Many of you may have watched it, in which case you'll know it was broadcast from Teeside and the closure of the Corus steelworks with the loss of 1600 jobs was the dominant topic. During the programme the panel discussed that the cause of the plant's closure was reduced demand due to the global recession. There probably is a lack of demand but if the fundamentals of a business are sound a temporary lack of demand can be ridden out until the economy improves again. Clearly there must be other reasons for the plant's closure - and that is why a blog about Anglesey is writing about the closure of a steelworks hundreds of miles away in Redcar. The fact is that the real reasons behind the closure of the Corus plant are almost identical to those behind the closure of Anglesey Aluminium and its worth examining them in detail as it shows that Anglesey Aluminium's closure was not an isolated incident but is the direct result of policy failure by our current government.
1. Energy Policy Failure
As previously discussed here, when Anglesey Aluminium was operating it used to consume daily 12% of Wales' total electricity and depended on a cut-price electricity deal with the nearby Wylfa nuclear powerstation. With Wylfa approaching its official decommissioning date that cheap electricity deal came to an end on 30th September, 2009, and the closure of Anglesey Aluminium came very shortly afterwards. Anglesey Aluminium's own management said at the time that it had "worked intensively with the UK Government and others" to find an alternative power supply, "but had been unable to do so". Similarly, the Corus steelworks was also one of the UK's largest electricity customers with an annual bill in excess of £80 million and was also suffering from lack of cheap electricity. Here is Labour MP, Denis MacShane in the Commons last year:
"Corus Engineering Steel has been crippled by high electricity prices compared to the EU average".He goes on to blame EDF Energy for this, but the real reason is that electricity prices are being pushed up because demand is rising whilst supply is dwindling, as evidenced by the below graphic from The Economist.
And this surely is the crux of the matter: this government has for too long prevaricated about rebuilding a series of power stations which are essential for both the UK's industry base and home-life. In other words it has failed to deal with one of the most fundamental requirements of a modern society: a secure and efficient energy supply. And the knock-on effects of this is not only more expensive energy for consumers but also the loss of huge amounts of jobs in energy-hungry heavy industries which depend on competitively-priced electricity in order to be competitive themselves on the world markets. Furthermore the likelihood is that Anglesey Aluminium and Corus, being amongst the largest electricity users, are probably just the first companies to be forced to close because of Labour's lack of a coherent energy policy.
2. Climate Change and Carbon Trading
On top of the energy problems above, the second issue we need to explore are the side-effects of the government's slavish adherence to the theory of man-made global warming. As many of you will know, in the name of fighting climate change the current government has pledged to reduce UK carbon emissions by a staggering 80% by 2050. To meet these goals, the EU has introduced a carbon trading scheme - an administrative approach to control pollution (in the shape of 'carbon') by providing economic benefits to companies for achieving reductions in the emissions of carbon. During a debate about the closure of Anglesey Aluminium in the Houses of Parliament, Robert Goodwill MP, the shadow transport secretary, had this to say about the EU scheme:
"is not the fundamental problem the operation of the European Union emissions trading system, which is making it increasingly difficult for primary metallurgical industries to operate in the EU? It would be all well and good if it resulted in the reduction of global CO2, but it merely results in carbon leakage to other economies such as China and India, which are not constrained in the same way."Exactly right, and precisely what happened in the case of Anglesey Aluminium - many of whose ex-workers were headhunted to work at Dubai's new state-of-the-art aluminium smelter, operating safely outside the EU's emissions trading system. The simple fact is that charging for carbon adds yet another layer of anti-competitiveness for already struggling heavy industries operating within the UK or Europe.
Even more perversely such schemes can actually make the closing of heavy industrial businesses, like Corus, more profitable than keeping them open. As Dominic Lawson wrote in January:
"The owners of the Corus steel company stand to gain up to $375m (£234m) in European Union carbon credits for closing their plant in Redcar, only to be rewarded on a similar scale by the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism fund for switching such production to a new “clean” Indian steel plant."The simple fact is that the government's pledge to dramatically cut emissions by 80% is in effect a manifesto to subsidise the closure of large swathes of the UK's industrial base and transfer those jobs to developing countries. If you believe in man-made climate change then perhaps you believe that such drastic actions are necessary - but it should be made absolutely clear to the electorate by whichever government is in charge that following such policies will result in dramatic job losses as heavy industries in this country become less competitive. And right now it is not clear whether all the jobs being lost in Anglesey Aluminium and Corus can be replaced by the promised 'green jobs' of the future.
There are other reasons behind the closure of Anglesey Aluminium and Corus such as high regulatory costs, high rates of corporation tax, and the recession forcing steel or aluminium using industries outside of the UK or Europe thus forcing up transportation costs. But the Druid believes that the above two issues are demonstrably the two major factors - and neither are to do with the global recession/reduced demand etc but are the direct result of political incompetence.
Monday, 22 February 2010
here on iPlayer (beware BBC programmes expire after just seven days).
Cotton concludes that the defining characteristics of Anglesey residents is that they are "very, very welsh", are not NIMBY-ish, and they like nuclear power and low flying jets. Max also interviewed each of the four main candidates and here are the highlights (interjected with the Druid's comments):
ALBERT OWEN (Labour)
Max Cotton: I think everyone I've spoken to here has said that jobs and regeneration are the two huge issues. We've had a Labour government for 13 years, is it your fault? Is it Tony Blair's fault that Anglesey is suffering?
Albert Owen: No, I came into politics in the 80s when it was a damn sight worse than it is now, we have to be honest about that. There was mass unemployment and mass depopulation in the 80s and 90s. Its certainly a lot better now.
The Druid: A lot better now? Are you serious, Albert? Was it really worse in the 80s? I don't think so - and here's why:
- Anglesey Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 400 jobs in September 2009
- The Wylfa Nuclear Powerstation was also commissioned in 1971, carried on through the 80s and 90s and is now only months away from being decommissioned
- The Octel chemical plant in Amlwch began production in 1953 and continued through the 80s and 90s (under various different names) until it closed in 2005
- The Eaton Electric plant in Holyhead opened in 1960 under the name Midland Electric Manufacturing Company, it operated all through the 80s and 90s and only closed in December 2009 with a loss of 250 jobs
- The Peboc Eastman chemical plant in Llangefni was established in 1970, continued production all through the 80s and 90s, and only closed its doors in 2008 with a loss of 100 jobs
- Anglesey is an island of farmers, yet the economic contribution of agriculture in North Wales (including Anglesey) has declined by a staggering 67 per cent during the period 1997-2007, compared to an overall UK decline of just 7 per cent. You only need to compare a visit to the Morgan Evans livestock auctions in the 80s or 90s with one now to see how things have declined
- This decimation of agriculture on Anglesey has directly affected the abattoir and meat-packaging plant in Gaerwen (now called Welsh Country Foods and part of the Vion Group) which began operating back in 1980s and continued throughout that decade and the 1990s; it has only begun downsizing this year with a loss of 200 jobs; the chicken processing plant in Llangefni, commonly known as 'Chuckies' and owned by the same company was established even earlier and also continued production throughout the 80s and 90s, until it lost a whole shift (140 jobs) last year
- Throughout the 80s and the 90s, the High Street of Anglesey's main market town, Llangefni, was bustling and enjoyed a vibrant street market on Thursdays. Back then there was hardly a single closed shop, yet now at least half of the storefronts are closed or converted to charity shops and the Thursday market is a shadow of itself (see here). Furthermore, Bangor may not be on the island but Anglesey residents have long travelled over the bridge to shop there - now Bangor High Street, also bustling with activity in the 80s and 90s, is rapidly resembling a ghost town (as the Druid has discussed here)
Anyway, I digress. Back to the interview:
Max Cotton: But you've been losing jobs and employers, haven't you?
Albert Owen: We've been losing a couple of employers in the last year as has everywhere, this global crisis has hit Anglesey hard, no ifs or buts about it, but we've got to take the brave decisions.
A couple of employers??! Albert Owen must either think that Anglesey residents don't watch the Politics Show or thinks we are all idiots.
PETER ROGERS (Independent)
The good news is that Peter Rogers is out of hospital following his heart op and recovering; the bad news is that he looks visibly frail.
Max Cotton: Nobody's rung you to say 'please don't do this, Peter'?
Peter Rogers: They are too ashamed of what they have done to me, too ashamed of the success I've had since I left the Conservatives.
MC: And its not resentment, its not bitterness on your part?
PR: Not at all, I think its wrong of you to challenge me on that...
MC: ...no, no, I'm just trying to find out what your motivations are in the nicest possible way...
PR: ...Yeah, yeah. I'm taking votes from all the Partys; I've got a lot of people who are nationalists who see me as a Sensible Nationalist. We need someone to lead, to change the image of Ynys Mon, and I believe that Peter Rogers can change that image.
So, it looks like health problems notwithstanding, Peter Rogers will be standing again at the general election...
DYLAN REES (Plaid Cymru)
Max Cotton interviewed Dylan Rees standing outside RAF Valley, ostensibly to make the point that Plaid Cymru have links with CND and are against having UK military bases on Welsh soil.
Dylan Rees: We are a broad church party. What really unites us is our passion, our vision. I have excellent links and ties with the personnel of RAF Valley and I think they do a wonderful job.
Max Cotton: Plaid Cymru doesn't like nuclear power though, do they?
Dylan Rees: Plaid Cymru, if it had a choice, would not want to see nuclear power, but how can I as a representative, or any political representative here on Anglesey, in the dire economic situation we find outselves in turn down the possibility of 5000 construction jobs and 800 to 1000 permanent well paid jobs?
Once you've gotten over the shock that Dylan didn't mention Post Offices once, what he basically said is: "our principles are against nuclear power and military bases, but we will ignore our principles just to get elected".
ANTHONY RIDGE-NEWMAN (Conservative)
We didn't see much of Anthony Ridge-Newman, but this is what he had to say:
Ridge-Newman: I come from an entrepreneurial background, my father is an entrepreneur, and I've had experience in business in the City in London and throughout the UK; I travelled around as a corporate presenter and I've done lots of things around the country in terms of business and economics and I want to bring that experience across the bridge into Anglesey; I want to get people working, I want to get people with creative ideas building businesses becoming entrepreneurs themselves and thats what the Conservatives are best at, and I think thats my strength.
The BBC didn't interview the ex-Barman from St Asaph, or maybe they did and just didn't show us that part. Anyway, no great loss.
All interesting stuff and the Druid particularly enjoyed the haunting Celtic music and references to his fellow Druids of yore - although Max Cotton made the common mistake of confusing the Bryn Celli Ddu burial mound with Druidism. Tut tut, one expects better than tired cliches from our National Broadcaster. Which brings me on to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychgwyndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch. Is it really obligatory to have references to it in every single programme about Anglesey?
Friday, 19 February 2010
new store on Bangor High Street. The event was even attended by the Mayor of Bangor, Cllr Jean Forsyth, who said "It’s nice to see shops opening on the High Street instead of closing and hopefully things are now starting to come full circle."
So why am I posting about it here, you may wonder? The shop which was opening is a branch of Cash Converters - a modern day Pawnbroker...
The Druid would suggest to the Mayor that the fact a Pawnbroker has chosen to open in your precinct is not a vote of confidence in the local economy - it is the exact opposite.
So for the benefit of Cllr Jean Forsyth: See that sign with three balls hanging symbolically over Gin Lane, Hogarth's vision of poverty, squalor, and despair? Thats a Pawnbroker's sign.
The Anglesey County Council Executive have announced that they will propose a Council Tax rise of 4.5% to the Full Council on March 4th. This will be slightly less than the 5% previously predicted. The North Wales Police precept, part of the total Council Tax, has already been set at a rise of 3%.
Most councils will be finalising their council tax rises for 2010/2011 over the next month but with regards to North Wales, this is what we know so far:
- Anglesey County Council - 4.5% (proposed)
- Conwy Council - 4.7% (confirmed)
- Flintshire County Council - 3.3% (proposed)
- Gwynedd County Council - 3.9% (confirmed)
The reason for these quite large increases are rising inflation making the provision of services more expensive and the generally derisory settlement increases from the Welsh Assembly Government for many councils in North Wales compared to those in South Wales. For example both Anglesey and Conwy councils received a rise of just 1% from the Welsh Assembly Government compared to rises of 3.1% for Newport and 2.9% for Cardiff City in South Wales. These WAG settlements are determined by some formula which takes into account the various demographics of each area, but there is obviously something wrong with this calculation when the poorest county in the UK, Anglesey, had to negotiate a floor of 1% or it would have received even less. Why isn't Ieuan Wyn Jones fighting harder for his 'home' seat in the Welsh Assembly?
For comparison, the Local Government Gazette surveyed councils in England last November on expected rises to council tax in their areas. Below are the results:
The average rise was predicted to be just 1.6% with 34 of the 81 councils surveyed revealing they were actually planning to cut or freeze their rates! If only we could be so lucky here in Wales!
If you know by how much Council Tax will rise in your area, please do post in comments.
UPDATE: Now includes Gwynedd CC's rise.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Daily Post: Peter Hain - saviour of North Wales
Another flurry of activity by Peter Hain is dutifully reported in the Daily Post today. This time he has apparently "unveiled" 240 jobs in Anglesey and Gwynedd. "Unveiled" is a rather strange word to use thought the Druid, generally jobs are said to be "made" or "created" - so what's going on here? Well it turns out that they are being "unveiled" rather than "created" because they are not actual "jobs" - they are better described as "work opportunities" for 18-24 year olds who have been out of work for nearly a year and are funded by the government's Future Jobs Fund. And they are not with an "actual" company - i.e. one which meets customer's needs and makes a profit - but with a charity based in Wrexham called Groundworks which "supports communities in need, working with partners to help improve the quality of people's lives, their prospects and potential and the places where they live, work and play". Despite these vague aims I'm sure Groundworks does sterling work, but I think its fair to conclude that Peter Hain's 240 "jobs" are not going to be the long terms solutions we need to replace the thousands of "real" jobs which have been lost in Anglesey and North Wales.
What is interesting though is the timing for all this sudden activity from Peter Hain; yesterday Hain trumpeted that an unnamed company was interested in creating hundreds of jobs in the old Anglesey Aluminium plant and today Hain waves his magic wand and "unveils" a further 240 jobs in North Wales. We haven't seen so much of Hain in a long time - a cynic might almost think he was trying to distract us from something...
Oh, guess what - the latest unemployment figures were released yesterday…
Here's how the press have reported the unemployment figures:
Daily Telegraph: Long-term unemployment highest since 1997
The Times: Number of people on the dole hits 13-year high
Guardian: Unemployment claimant count rises again
Daily Post (not online): Jobless total falls by 2,000
The Daily Post really isn't doing its readership any favours by so cravenly following Peter Hain and the Welsh Office's official line. So for the benefit of Daily Post readers everywhere here are the actual figures for Wales in comparison with the rest of the country:
Click to enlarge
- Economically Active: Wales: 75.7% - the lowest figure in the UK apart from Northern Ireland
- Employment: Wales: 68.9% - the third lowest figure in the UK after Northern Ireland and London
- Unemployment: Wales 8.6% - almost a whole percentage point higher than England as a whole
- Economically inactive: Wales 24.3% - the highest rate in the UK apart from Northern Ireland
And overall the number of people claiming benefit is at an all time high, the number of economically inactive people is also at an all time high and unemployment is higher than when Labour came to power in 1997.
So now the real reason for Peter Hain's sudden news blitzkrieg is apparent. And its also worth noting that the Cabinet are meeting in North East of England today - coincidentally the only place with higher unemployment than Wales. Strange that.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Politicians are never slow in claiming credit for good ideas. For example the Druid hears that certain Anglesey County Councillors are privately displeased with Albert Owen's hijacking and use of their 'Energy Island' concept to promote himself - despite having had no hand in its creation.
Today's Daily Post brings another such example. Ahead of Peter Hain's visit to Anglesey today, he has briefed the paper that an unnamed company is very interested in converting the Anglesey Aluminium premises into a wind turbine factory in order to produce the thousands of units required by the huge offshore wind farms the government wants to build. Apparently the deep port at Anglesey Aluminium could be ideal for such a plant to allow easy transportation of the turbines out to sea where they would be used.
According to Hain:
“There is a very good prospect of hundreds of jobs being created.
“Anglesey Aluminium’s closure has been a body blow to the local economy but we have been working to get new, high quality jobs to the area.
“They are eligible for some government assistance and convergence funding. It is a very serious and viable project and I think it could be the beginning of good times, especially with the likelihood of a Wylfa B.”"The beginning of the good times"? What does that say about how good for Anglesey the previous 13 years of Labour rule have been?
Of course this could be fantastic news for Anglesey which is still reeling from approx. 3,000 job losses over a relatively short period of time. However the Druid thought it was strange that the company in question could not be named apparently because "talks are commercially sensitive". Really? More likely because the company in question doesn't want to be used as an electoral political football by opportunistic politicians thought the Druid. And sure enough a few hours later the BBC's Betsan Powys popped up to blog that she had met with the individual behind the plan and confirmed that he thought it had become "political fodder" and that Hain is basically indeed taking credit for a great deal of work done by him and others. Surprise surprise.
Considering how during one of the worst recessions since the 1920s the Welsh Assembly Government has managed to spend less than a quarter of its business support budget six months into the financial year, politicians would be better off doing more and spinning less.
UPDATE: When the Druid wrote the above he had only read the online version of the Daily Post story. Now he has seen the actual paper version and it is even more sickening:
UPDATE 2: The following comment by 'forlonehope' on Betsan's blog is worth reproducing in full here:
To build the towers you need large scale steel fabrication, a bit like a shipyard. To build the blades you need large scale composite fabrication, a bit like an aircraft factory. To build the generator you need gearbox and heavy electrical engineering works. To cast the hub you need a precision iron foundry. None of that looks like a redundant aluminium smelter or, for that matter, the kind of skills required to operate it. What it does look like is another bit of electioneering. It's particularly cruel as it will build up hopes only to dash them.
How Wylfa B could look
Another day, another obstacle in the way of the building of Wylfa B. Both the FT and the Times today report that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have registered its "most intense level of concern" regarding the design of the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 - the nuclear reactor which Horizon Nuclear Power wants to build at Wylfa. The HSE is concerned that the design of AP1000 as it currently stands would not be strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a commercial airliner.
According to the Times, the HSE's letter states:
"Toshiba-Westinghouse's proposed “modular” approach to construction, where large components are built off-site and then transported in for assembly, was not proven. It raised questions about the strength of the external fabric of the building, which uses a concrete and steel sandwich structure."
Its a bit of a revelation that large sections of the plant will be built off-site and then shipped in to Wylfa -- would that effect the projected 9,000 construction jobs which the government has at various times claimed would be created in Anglesey to build Wylfa B?
Anyway, Toshiba-Westinghouse has been given until October to reply to the HSE's concerns or there is a possibility that the design will not be licensed. Only after the HSE has granted it a reactor licence can Horizon Nuclear Power, the company that wants to build reactor in Wylfa, submit a proper planning application for the sites they have selected. The first concrete will not be poured before 2013.
Luckily for Albert Owen the fate of Wylfa B will not be settled before the election.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
post on inflation, the BBC website is now reporting:
UK inflation rate rose to 3.5% in January - the fastest annual pace for 14 months - from 2.9% the month before, official figures have shown.
Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation was driven up by VAT returning to 17.5% and higher petrol prices.
Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation which includes housing costs, rose up to 3.7% in January, up from 2.4%.
Bank of England governor Mervyn King has had to write a letter of explanation to the chancellor.That means that the pound in your pocket is going to be worth a lot less very soon. Accordingly the Druid is heading off with his shovel to Rhos-Mynach Mawr and Parys Mountain where, according to the National Museum of Wales Mineralogy Database, he can find gold!
Monday, 15 February 2010
The admirable Dylan Jones-Evans has posted a very interesting piece on the effects of high inflation on the recovery. He notes that Citibank is predicting that inflation rates could hover around 4% throughout the year - in contrast to the Bank of England's forecast of just 1%. Based on the BoE's recent performances the Druid knows which forecast is more likely to be correct.
Dylan Jones-Evans points out that rampant inflation will have the following adverse effect on public finances:
- higher inflation leads to higher consumer prices which can adversely effect the recovery meaning less tax income;
- higher inflation will also lead to higher pay demands from Public Sector workers whose pay settlements are linked to inflation;
- furthermore higher inflation means pressure to increase pensions, social security, etc.
Such pressures could be disastrous for any government which
And lets not forget that we have no alternative but to start paying back the debt. There was a letter in the Sunday Times yesterday signed by the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England and head of the Financial Services Authority, a former permanent secretary to the Treasury and cabinet secretary, four former members of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (MPC), a Labour peer, the former chief economists of the Bank of England, HSBC and the Greater London Authority, the head of the economics department at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the presidents of both the Royal Economic Society and the European Economic Association. In it, these leading economists say:
"IT IS now clear that the UK economy entered the recession with a large structural budget deficit. As a result the UK’s budget deficit is now the largest in our peacetime history and among the largest in the developed world.
In these circumstances a credible medium-term fiscal consolidation plan would make a sustainable recovery more likely.
In the absence of a credible plan, there is a risk that a loss of confidence in the UK’s economic policy framework will contribute to higher long-term interest rates and/or currency instability, which could undermine the recovery.
In order to minimise this risk and support a sustainable recovery, the next government should set out a detailed plan to reduce the structural budget deficit more quickly than set out in the 2009 pre-budget report."
How will this effect Anglesey?
Put simply: as inflation increases, the chances of Wylfa B going ahead decreases:
- higher inflation will make the estimated £90bn cost to the public purse of disposing of the UK's existing nuclear waste even more expensive;
- higher inflation will push up construction costs of a potential Wylfa B, making it less cost effective over its lifetime;
- If Wylfa B becomes less cost effective there is less financial incentive for RWE npower/E.on UK to build without calling for a public subsidy;
- Both the Labour and Conservative party have publicly pledged no public subsidies for new nuclear reactors - and indeed may not have any money to do so as they have to pay back the vast debt already run up and counter the spending pressures described by Dylan Jones-Evans above.
So at the very point when a decision has to be made whether to build Wylfa B or not the UK's economy is in the worst possible state: suffering from a double whammy of vast public debt and rising inflation - a combination which could easily kill off Wylfa B and Anglesey's economic future with it.
Of course, if the Labour government had commissioned Wylfa B ten years ago when it should have, we wouldn't have these problems.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Matt Wood as their Ynys Môn candidate for the general election.
Matt is from St Asaph and went to the University of Glamorgan to study "media practice" - whatever that might be. Now at the ripe old age of 26, the ex-bar worker has come to Anglesey to tell us that we can't have Wylfa B.
The Druid doesn't get the impression that the Liberal Democrats are taking Ynys Môn very seriously: their Ynys Môn Association has an address in Cardiff and Matt is still listed as the Treasurer of the Vale of Clwyd Association.
No wonder the Liberals haven't held the seat since 1951.
Friday, 12 February 2010
Schematic diagram showing how the Bodffordd Biodigester works
As per yesterdays' post Peter Rogers hospitalisation has potentially put the general election result within reach of all three main parties. In the electoral simulations the Druid made based on the January YouGov Wales poll, Labour and Plaid have less than 100 votes between them with the Conservatives trailing just 1000 votes behind. And in a scenario where every single vote counts it looks like Plaid Cymru have made a massive miscalculation in Bodffordd which has the potential to cost them the election.
Anglesey residents will probably be aware that trouble has been brewing in Bodffordd for some time about plans to site a 25,000 tonne Biodigester in nearby Mona Industrial Park. A biodigester basically creates electricity from organic waste such as out-of-date food or meat by-products through allowing bacteria to digest it in an oxygen-free environment thus producing methane-rich biogas which is then converted to heat or electricity. As you might imagine it is a pretty smelly process and residents of Bodffordd are concerned that they could be stunk out of their own homes when the prevailing wind is blowing. Two public meetings were held to discuss ways of stopping the plant and the community council also objected to its building. In the end however Anglesey County Council approved the project on December 14th despite receiving a petition against with 479 signatures from residents.
So what has all this got to do with Plaid Cymru? Well, the County Councillor for Bodffordd is Plaid Cymru's William Hughes and it appears that he managed to alienate his residents by failing to turn up for any of the public meetings about the biodigester. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, it turns out that now that the plant has been approved both Cllr William Hughes and Plaid PPC Dylan Rees have suddenly made overtures to help Bodffordd. Too little, too late say residents.
At the last council elections there were 793 electors in the Bodffordd ward and we know that 479 people signed the petition - its probably fair to assume that a majority of these voted Plaid Cymru in the council elections but now won't be doing so in the General Election. And as there could potentially only be 100 votes between Labour and Plaid, has the Bodffordd Biodigester lost the election for Plaid Cymru?
As a side note, the campaign against the biodigester has been lead by former County Councillor John Arthur Jones. He lost his Cyngar (Llangefni) seat by 200 votes to Plaid Cymru in 2008 - no doubt he will be standing in Bodffordd against William Hughes at the next council elections.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
The Druid hears that the charismatic Independent, Peter Rogers, who captured 15% of the vote at the 2005 General Election in Anglesey has been hospitalised for a heart bypass operation.
Peter was Conservative AM for North Wales from 1999-2003 but resigned from the party after being placed 7th on the party list in 2003. Since 2004 he has been an Independent councillor representing the Rhosyr ward. He stood as in Independent in 2005 General Election both splitting the Conservative vote and probably denying Plaid Cymru the seat through carrying the farmers' vote.
Until very recently he has been heard to say "if I'm fit, I'll stand" regarding the 2010 General Election too. He's currently 70 years of age and it remains to be seen if this latest hospitalisation will make him reconsider. If he doesn't stand Anglesey becomes a three-way marginal with just a few hundred votes between Labour, Plaid and the Conservatives.
The Druid wishes him a speedy recovery. Anglesey needs him.
Whereas Tuesday brought us Plaid Cymru's 'Herald' newsletter, Wednesday's Anglesey & Holyhead Mail came complete with a full page advertisement by the Ynys Mon Labour Party entitled
Apparently the Labour Party is "loading [sic] the way to recovery", and it has a "summary of plan" to do just that (in bold below):
- Wylfa B and an extension to Wylfa A bringing jobs for life
As we have discussed several times on this blog the future of Wylfa B is far from certain with both major parties adopting the same policy: that any new nuclear reactors must be built and operated without any public subsidy at any stage during its life. The only problem is that no nuclear power station anywhere in the world has ever been build built without subsidy...
- Britain's Energy Island. Green jobs and training.
The Druid actually rather likes the 'Energy Island' concept and notes with approval that Coleg Menai's Llangefni site has recently been given £6m to build a Energy and Fabrication Centre which will house the National Skills Academy Nuclear. For this at least Albert Owen deserves some credit - but the 'Energy Island' concept still needs to be transferred from just a concept into some concrete action.
- Rebuilding vibrant and safer communities in village / town centres and homes
How does that square with the fact that 26 local police stations have been shut in North Wales since Labour came to power? Or the fact that several Anglesey villages have lost their local Post Offices? Or the fact that local schools such as those in Aberffraw, Llandrygarn and Ty Mawr Capel Coch are set to be closed? Or the fact that village libraries, such as the one in Rhosneigr, are also to be closed? Labour are right to use the word "rebuilding' as they have comprehensively destroyed the vibrant communities which used to exist in Anglesey's villages and towns.
- Major transport hub. Road, rail, sea and air.
Well the A55 was the brainchild of Keith Best MP, rail services haven't noticeably improved over the past 10 years, and Highland Airways which exclusively operate out of Anglesey Airport are in serious financial trouble.
- Quality Tourism - promoting Anglesey
Anglesey is the home to a number of very significant neolithic burial monuments - yet none of them boast more than a small car park. The extraordinary Celtic treasures found in Llyn Cerrig Bach are languishing in Cardiff. If ever there was a case of untapped resources and lack of political vision, this is it.
- More youth facilities & Leisure Centre upgrades and sporting opportunities
Perhaps Albert Owen hasn't heard that Anglesey County Council is planning to close Beaumaris Leisure Centre and drain two swimming pools on the Island?
- Making Anglesey a better place to work, live,and visit?
How, Albert, how? Who writes this drivel?
The advertisement goes on to say:
"Albert Owen is working tirelessly to avoid the pitfalls past recessions have brought. Albert has lobbied Ministers at the UK and Assembly level, including the new First Minister. He is working with local communities, businesses and the Unions and is formulating a recovery plan with ideas to rebuild a strong and sustainable future"Notice that he is "formulating a recovery plan" i.e. present tense. He's been the Ynys Mon MP for nine years, we've been in recession for the majority of the past two years - the time for "formulating recovery plans" is well over, now is the time to be IMPLEMENTING recovery plans.
Finally, the advertisement mentions with pride that Albert Owen was awarded "Campaigner of the Year 2009" in the Welsh Politician of the Year Awards. For what? His big campaign in 2009 to save Anglesey Aluminium was a complete disaster and the future of Wylfa B is still in question.
Campaigning is what Opposition MPs do, Albert. You are in the Government - you should be DOING not CAMPAIGNING.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Given that recently published figures show that economic inactivity in Wales is worse than in any other part of the UK, that three Welsh local authority areas are among the five poorest in the country, and that Wales has the highest rate of severe child poverty of all the home nations, what did the Secretary of State have in mind when he boasted last week that “Wales is still a wealthy country”? Complacent or what?
Mr. Hain: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, compared with Rwanda and most countries in the rest of the world—this is the point that I was making, if he had not chosen to take that quotation out of context—Wales is indeed still a wealthy country? Yes, we have suffered setbacks in the past few years, but we suffered terrible setbacks in the ’80s and ’90s. One of the reasons why we are in a strong position is that we have moved forward with investment to support businesses and the economy. That is one of the reasons why the number on incapacity benefit in Wales has come down by more than a fifth, when under the Conservatives it rose year on year.
All I can say is: Wales deserves better than Peter Hain.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
The Druid returned to his Druidic Residence yesterday to find this lying on his Druidic Doormat:
At first he thought it was a new free-paper but on closer inspection it turned out to be a mailer from Plaid Cymru complete with endless photos of Plaid's Ynys Mon candidate, Dylan Rees, standing in front of things. The Druid's favourite is this one of Dylan on the riverside terrace of the House of Commons:
Perhaps he was picking out his spot for after the election? After all the bookies already think his victory is a foregone conclusion.
However, the Druid personally thinks that Rees is entirely unsuitable for the role. Anglesey has lost three thousand jobs in a very short period of time, the future of Wylfa B is uncertain, council tax is planned to rise 15% over three years, agriculture on the island has been decimated, inflation is about to let rip - Ynys Mon really is staring at economic catastrophe.
What the Island needs now is jobs - lots and lots of jobs - and somebody with the experience and vision to help create them. Yet the depressing fact is that the odds-on favourite to win the seat is Dylan Rees - a man who has spent his entire career working in the public sector as first a Policeman and later as a Homelessness Officer for Anglesey County Council. Every single pay cheque he has ever received has come courtesy of you - the taxpayer. He has never started a new business, he has never employed anyone, he has no knowledge whatsoever about how business works.
On his flyer Rees says that "New jobs the top priority" and pledges "to make job creation his number one priority". Tellingly however we have to wait until page 4 (i.e. the last page) to learn about this 'top priority' and only after endless nonsense about how he wants Anglesey to be the first zero-carbon zone in Wales and how he attended the "wave protest" in London (calling for, amongst other things, £150bn a year to be given to poor countries to help them cope with climate change. Who's paying for that?). And this is not the first time he has got his priorities wrong.
Is this really the man to rebuild our Island?
Note: I'm not saying that the others are any better (Albert Owen is a sailor who later worked in the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Druid is not even sure what Anthony Ridge-Newman does) but I am particularly highlighting Rees's background as he is the front runner and Ynys Mon is in danger of sleep walking into electing him without any real scrutiny of his complete lack of business experience - and right now Ynys Mon needs business experience.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice show that of 4,059 criminals sentenced last year for indictable offences (i.e. murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, grand theft, robbery, burglary, arson, conspiracy, fraud and other major crimes) in North Wales - only 603 were sentenced to prison. Thats less than 15%!
Apparently of the remainder, 842 received fines, 344 were given suspended jail terms, and 1,371 were given community sentences, with the rest given conditional discharges or passed over to mental health authorities.
Of course in the Druid's time crime was dealt with far more efficiently: we sacrificed the blighters! However, even back then, that was going a little too far which lead to the Emperor Tiberius outlawing Druidism - the only national religion to be so proscribed by what was a religiously tolerant Roman Empire.
Crime in Anglesey
So lets take a look at crime in Anglesey in 2009 beginning with the incidence of all crimes, and then the figures for burglary, robbery, vehicle crimes, violence, and anti-social behaviour (note: these graphs show the number of crimes per 1000 people):
Two things are immediately apparent from these charts:
- Most of Anglesey's criminals go on holiday in September; and
- the two largest categories of crime in Anglesey are overwhelmingly the last two: violence and anti-social behaviour.
The Druid is not an expert, but I would suspect that when only 15% of offenders of serious crimes are given prison sentences this sends out a message to society that you can pretty much do as you want - because you have to be REALLY REALLY bad to get anything more than a slap on the wrist. No wonder there is so much casual violence and anti-social behaviour.
It is easy to shrug this off and complain that the Courts aren't doing their job - but we have known for a long time that North Wales Police are more interested in catching speeding motorists than drunken yobs. During a recent nigh-time excursion to the Druid's nearest market town on a Friday evening, he observed not a single Police officer anywhere at chucking-out time. It is also informative that ex-North-Wales-Policeman, Plaid Cymru candidate for Ynys Mon Dylan Rees is actually calling for even less criminals to be sentenced to prison. With the figure currently standing at just 15% what figure do you have in mind, Dylan? 10%? 5%? 0%? Do let us know...
All the Druid can say is: perhaps it is time for elected Police Commissioners - its surely right that the priorities of the local Police are set by the local communities they serve rather than faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall.
Until that happens you can make do by balancing your bobby.