Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Anglesey Recovery Board - latest report to WAG

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

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

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

Monday, 29 November 2010

Making sure Ynys Môn benefits from the Royal tourism boost

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 November 2010

Priced-out: The housing situation on Ynys Môn

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Anglesey loses out in Council budget calculations

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Irish Bailout and Holyhead

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

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

Monday, 22 November 2010

Ombudsman to review Holyhead Grants case

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

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

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Starting out...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Druid Revealed

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

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

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

...and many more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Williams / The Druid

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

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Old versus New in Rhosneigr

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The final result was as follows:

Richard Dew    319 votes
Martin Peet        58 votes

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

++ Parking Decision - deferred to Full Council ++

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

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

Sunday, 14 November 2010

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 November 2010

Pay and Display Madness (updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 November 2010

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

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

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

He also went on to say:

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

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

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

Welsh Assembly Ruling Coalition AMs - Click to enlarge

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

Here are the breakdowns by party:


Labour AMs - click to enlarge


Plaid Cymru AMs - click to enlarge


Conservative AMs - click to enlarge


Lib Dem AMs - click to enlarge

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

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

The Outer Hebrides outgrow Anglesey

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

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

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

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

Location of the top 10 poorest regions in the UK

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

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

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A reader asks IWJ, "why does Anglesey always come last?" (updated)

Following the revelations via Dylan Jones-Evans on Monday that less than 0.1 percent of European 'JEREMIE' funding spent in Wales so far has been obtained by Anglesey-based companies, a reader of this blog emailed Ieuan Wyn Jones to ask him why:

Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2010 11:45 AM
To: Wyn Jones, Ieuan (Assembly Member) 
Subject: European Structural Funding allocated to Anglesey 
Mr Jones,
As a long term resident of Anglesey I am appalled by the continual decline in investment and employment in this island. This situation is highlighted by the latest official data which shows that in the last three years only 111 businesses on the island have been helped through European convergence funding.  In addition to this, only 102 new jobs have been created and only 18 new businesses have been set up. At the same time we have lost many large employers too well known to have to list.
I understand that Wales have access to the £150,000,000 JEREMIE fund which is providing commercial funding for small firms which face difficulties in obtaining funding.
According to figures released by the Welsh Assembly, £30 million has been spent in the whole of Wales, only £25,000 has been invested in Anglesey. This is less than 0.1% of the funding.
The figures tell us that Gwynedd has received 44 times more funding than your constituency, Conwy has received twice as much, Denbighshire 35 times more and Flintshire 77 times more. Why is this?
Are you, as either MP or AM for this island for many years, proud of this situation?
You are in a position of authority in the Welsh Assembly, why on earth do you not support the people who sent you there?
Please let me know what action you intend to take to correct this grossly unfair situation.

This morning he received a reply all the way from Cardiff Bay:

From: "Wyn Jones, Ieuan (Assembly Member)"
Date: 10 November 2010 08:26:18 GMT
Subject: Re: European Structural Funding allocated to Anglesey
I thank you for your e-mail and interest in these matters. The amount of convergence funding which Anglesey has access to is significantly higher than that quoted by you. I'll get the full figures. 
Access to the Jeremie fund is by individual companies and not allocated geographically by the government. Indeed the fund is only a small proportion of the funding requirement of small businesses. 
Anglesey has benefited significantly from a whole range of European funding streams as well as in providing funding for transport links in recent years.
I hope that you will continue to support all efforts in improving the island's economy including strengthening the economy department's role in North Wales.
Yours sincerely
Ieuan Wyn Jones

It is IWJ's reply to the issue of JEREMIE funding which is so revealing: no explanation as to why the take up on Anglesey has been so appallingly small, just a glib assertion that it is not allocated geographically. I have no doubt that that he is right -- but what is being asked of IWJ is this: has he as Anglesey's AM done done enough to ensure that businesses in his own constituency are aware that such funding is available? The figures would suggest not. Furthermore we know that Anglesey is the poorest place in the UK, we know that the island has lost over 2,000 private sector jobs over the past couple of years, therefore we need our Assembly Member to be doing everything in his power to ensure that his own constituency gets all the support it needs to return to growth. Unfortunately neither the JEREMIE funding take-up figures nor IWJ's reply above instill confidence.

UPDATE: Our correspondent replied to IWJ and has received another mail from the Minister:
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:16 AM
To: Wyn Jones, Ieuan (Assembly Member) 
Subject: European Structural Funding allocated to Anglesey 
Dear Mr Jones,
I am in receipt of your reply to my email on the above subject.
I look forward to receiving the figures concerning the amount of convergence funding to which Anglesey has access, as promised.
How much of these funds have been applied for and how much has been received and for what purposes? I would like answers to all three points.
You say that access to the JEREMIE fund is by individual companies, what are you doing specifically to make sure that companies know about these funds and how are you helping them to obtain them? Answer please.
You also say that the fund is only a small proportion of the funding requirements of small businesses, what are you doing the help them with any shortfall? Answer please.
You say that Anglesey has benefited significantly from a whole range of European funding streams. When we look at the fact that Anglesey is the poorest area in the United Kingdom there is no apparent improvement. Why are you not pushing harder to see that this island receives its fair share of funding? We get less than any other part of Wales. Is there a good reason for this state of affairs?
With regard to the funding for transport links, are you refering to the massive subsidy to the Valley - Cardiff air link? I am sure it is of great help to some people!
You conclude by saying that you hope I will continue to support efforts to improve the island's economy, could you list some concrete examples of your achievements in this direction?

To which IWJ replied:

From: "Wyn Jones, Ieuan (Assembly Member)"
Date: 10 November 2010 12:08:45 GMT
Subject: Re: European Structural Funding allocated to Anglesey
I have made a note of your continuing concerns to which I will respond to in due course. The Jeremie fund is extensively marketed as well as other sources of funding
It is not true to say that Anglesey receives less support from government funding than other counties. The regen project Mon a Menai is one of a limited number of SRA's in the whole of Wales.
Ieuan Wyn Jones

Monday, 8 November 2010

Why does Anglesey always come last?

In his blog today, Dylan Jones-Evans reveals some very disturbing information about how Anglesey is being seriously left behind in terms of European structural funding:

"But as we know, Anglesey, as the poorest county within the whole of the UK, has the advantage of being able to access £2 billion pounds of European Structural funding in order to create jobs and new businesses to alleviate the effects of the recession.
Unfortunately, that has simply not happened.
The latest official data shows that, in the last three years, only 111 businesses on Anglesey have been helped through European convergence funding.
Worse still, only 102 new jobs have been created and just 18 new businesses set up.
Remember this is at a time when Wales was going though the worst downturn since the 1920s and hundreds of jobs were lost on Anglesey.
But that is not the whole story.
Wales is also fortunate to have access to the £150 million JEREMIE fund that is providing commercial funding solutions for small firms that face difficulties in securing funding. 
Yet, according to the latest figures released by WAG, whilst £30 million has been spent across Wales, only £25,000 has been invested on Anglesey i.e. less than 0.1 per cent of funding for entrepreneurs has gone to the poorest county in Wales."

The JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) project is very interesting in that it provides exactly the kind of support which Anglesey needs right now, i.e. loans for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are currently facing difficulties in securing funding from banks. Considering that Anglesey has lost the majority of its larger firms over the past few years, to secure any kind of economic growth on the Island we have to strategically focus on our indigenous small firms. Yet as Dylan Jones-Evans points out, Anglesey's SMEs has been the recipient of less than 0.1 percent of the total JEREMIE funding spent in Wales to date. To put that into perspective, lets see how other Welsh regions have done compared to Anglesey:

JEREMIE investments in SMEs by region (£000s)
click to enlarge

So, our neighbour Gwynedd has received 44 times more funding than Anglesey, Conwy twice as much, Denbighshire 35 times more, and Flintshire a staggering 77 times more. 

One has to ask why so little of this funding is being accessed by Anglesey's companies? Our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, always manages to find time to slam the coalition government for any perceived "lack of respect" for the Welsh economy, yet strangely fails to find any time to actually ensure that his constituency's small businesses are taking full advantage of available funding options -- despite them being administered by his own department. Time to go, Ieuan...

Friday, 5 November 2010

The questions Wales This Week should have asked.

Last night's ITV 'Wales This Week' investigation into Wales's highest paid public servant, David Bowles, and the 'recovery' process at Anglesey County Council promised so much, but ultimately delivered so little.

Noting the abundant debate about the programme below this thread, my only comments are the following:

  • David Bowles was wrong to refuse to be interviewed. Together with Clive McGregor and Elan Closs Stephens, Bowles is one of the most important architects of the recovery process and should have no problem with defending his role in front of a camera. The programme was not a hatchet job -- in fact it made it abundantly clear that Bowles has in the past been very courageous in both routing out corruption at Lincolnshire and standing up to Labour's NHS targets. However as the vox pops in Llangefni High Street highlighted: normal residents are aghast at the salary he is paid -- and rightly so when you consider he earns roughly 2.5x the average weekly wage on Anglesey in a day. Rightly or wrongly the sheer size of his salary has made him a target for opponents and it is only right that he should have appeared and put our minds at rest that it is money well spent.
  • Also, rather than focussing excessively on David Bowles' ill advised and brief stay in Parc Cefni, I would have been more interested in learning about the circumstances leading to Bowles' appointment as the highest paid civil servant in the land. Was the position advertised? How many other persons were considered for the role? How was the salary level (which is paid by Anglesey ratepayers) arrived at? If no other persons were interviewed -- and there was therefore no competitive tender -- how on earth can the highest public sector salary in Wales be justified? And, similarly, is it really wise to pay a civil servant £1000 a day, in a place where the average weekly wage is just £396 (2007 data)? These would have been more relevant questions for the programme makers to deal with.
  • Another issue regarding the recovery process which would have benefitted from a more in depth discussion, is the question of whether attempting to draw a line in the sand over past problems is paying dividends. It is clear that there is still a significant number of Councillors who are unhappy with the process -- pretty much guaranteeing that normal service will be resumed just as soon as David Bowles and the recovery board head off into the sunset. Accordingly it would have been interesting to have had a discussion of alternative routes to the 'recovery'. A South African style 'Truth and Reconciliation' style tribunal is probably going too far, but I have a feeling that a full and open internal investigation into some contentious issues from the past would prove a very cathartic experience for the council. 

Ultimately we should concern ourselves with what works -- and I'm not fully convinced that the current recovery process has the support of enough councillors to ensure that it will be robust. From this point of view my advice to Bowles, McGregor and Closs Stephens is this: in order to give the recovery the best possible chance of survival, appoint a new, permanent MD to work alongside Bowles as soon as possible. In order to boost morale among staff, choose someone from within the council who is acceptable to all parties (not as hard a task as some might imagine). Pay that person no more than the average wage of a council chief executive in Wales. And most importantly: recognise that the biggest challenge facing Anglesey is not just restoring confidence in the council, but helping rebuild the Island's shattered economy --  for that reason choose somebody with some creativity, imagination, and a helluva lot of business nous.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Tonight's Required Viewing

Unlike Cllr John Chorlton who told the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail that "I'm not going to stay in specifically to watch [it], I'll probably record it and watch it later" I hope you will all be tuning in to tonight's ITV investigation into the 'recovery' process at Anglesey County Council:

From ITV Wales: 7:30pm - 8pm TONIGHT (Thursday):
The Anglesey Challenge
"Jonathan Hill goes behind the headlines with in-depth analysis of the week's major issues. He looks at the challenge facing one of Wales' highest-paid servants, the trouble shooter sent in to run crisis-hit Anglesey County Council." (subtitled) 

Expect all manner of turmoil from tomorrow onwards.

The very strange priorities of Albert Owen

Last week Albert Owen thought it would be a good idea to write in to the Daily Post saying that the Office for National Statistics has got it wrong and, contrary to what the official figures say, Anglesey isn't the poorest place in the country after all. Indeed, thanks to some special data which only Albert is privy to, Ynys Môn is apparently more likely to be the second, or maybe even the third poorest place in the country. I can only imagine that he thinks that telling us we are 'only' the 'second poorest place' in the whole UK instead of 'the poorest', is somehow a vindication of the last 13 years of Labour rule.

Anyway, no doubt hyped-up by last week's success, Albert had another letter published in the Daily Post yesterday -- and this time he decided to tackle the really big issue which everyone on the Island has been talking about. Yes, that's right, he decided to write about how the Tory government of the 1990s used European structural funds. This it seems is far more important than anything that is actually happening on the Island today, and apparently the events of twenty years ago also somehow negate any criticism of the WAG's Economic Renewal Programme made by Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans, the economic advisor to the Welsh Conservatives. No, I couldn't follow Albert's logic either.

Anyway, seeing how Albert brought it up and often likes to tell us how much worse the 80s and 90s were for Anglesey, this is what I remember:

  • Anglesey Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 450 jobs in September 2009
  • The 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. 

I'm not denying that the 1980s and 90s were hard times, but contrary to Albert's constant diversionary tactics, all of Anglesey's prime businesses survived that era intact, only to be forced to close or downsize over the past couple of years.

Anyway, I can't wait to see what Albert is going to write about next week...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Anglesey's Libraries: a Council Success Story

Anglesey County Council is so often on the receiving end of quite severe criticism that we may sometimes forget that, despite the shenanigans in the council chamber, the council does perform many services very well, and some excellently. A good example is the library service on Anglesey. Fellow island blogger, Photon, writes this about the latest Welsh Assembly assessment of Anglesey's libraries:

Anglesey is amongst the top performers in Welsh libraries, passing 12 of a possible 14 standards in 2009-10 and has achieved this despite having the lowest numbers of staff of any local authority.  In the words of Cymal, the Welsh Assembly's Library Standards authority:
"With such meagre staffing resources it is difficult to see how many more service improvements can be achieved. Indeed it is possible that current levels of performance overall are only being achieved on account of the dedication and commitment of the staff rather than as a result of the authority’s support and investment."
In other words, the staff are pulling-off Herculean improvements in the library service on Anglesey, whilst the Council itself shows little interest in it. 
Anglesey's libraries have this year been awarded 12 out of a possible 14 target passes for its levels of service - up from the average Welsh pass rate of 7 targets last year, and well ahead of the Welsh national average of just 9 targets met.  In the words of the Welsh Assembly: 
"This is progress at an accelerated rate and reflects well on the effectiveness of the service in applying careful and considered approaches to the requirements of the Standards."
Read the whole thing here.

When you consider the excellent service provided by Anglesey's libraries, and the fact that it all costs yearly less than one percent of the council's entire budget, I hope that the council executive will recognise its value to the island and spare it from unnecessary cuts.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rhosneigr by-election update

Back in September when ex-Leader Phil Fowlie stood down and a by-election was called in the Rhosneigr ward, in line with the People's Manifesto I made the following requests of any candidates:

  • To state in advance which political grouping they intend to join if elected; and 
  • To publish a personal manifesto of their aims and values

To this end I am delighted to have received the following mail from one of the candidates:

"Dear Druid,
My name is Martin Peet. I am Standing as the Welsh Conservatives Candidate for Rhosneigr. I have lived in the area for over 10 years and know it well. I am also the Deputy Chairman Political of the Anglesey Conservative Association and was Agent for Anthony Ridge-Newman. My day job is in major construction; I am 35, a hard working family man and am standing for council because they need new blood with professionalism and someone who can see the bigger picture.
I am very impressed by the blog that you have created and the political stimulus it has created amongst the population of our island. David Cameron and the Conservatives have a vision for our nation and that is one of the "Big Society" - People coming together and getting things moving without the aid of a super state. It seems that the seed of the Big Society has been planted and nurtured here with the publication of the People’s Manifesto. Congratulations.
Rhosneigr, as you may know was served by former leader Phil Fowlie, and contrary to the reports against him, he served the ward well and was highly respected as the Councillor for Rhosneigr. I wish him well in his recovery from surgery.
Mini manifesto for Rhosneigr: If elected:
Stop the closure of the Library.
Libraries, like the swimming pools and schools are essential for the islands future -closing services used by children, adults and the elderly alike is pure madness.  Savings aren't made by hacking out swathes from the infrastructure of the island, they are made my making the existing services more efficient, sharing resources where possible, making the services more "lean".  Anglesey also benefits from the “Libraries for Life” grant scheme, so closing libraries on the island could probably jeopardise this funding source.
Develop a parking strategy for Rhosneigr, to ease the problems during summer periods.
We could just build a new car park near the common, but that is a short term solution.  The root to the issue is deeper.  New developments need to provide for adequate parking (including boats).  Any new parking facilities should be Free.  Car parks need to be strategically positioned to utilise both beaches in Rhosneigr.
Control Housing and Holiday Home development.
There have been plenty of new developments for the holiday market, some remaining unsold, yet we have a housing need for our young families in Rhosneigr, and the surrounding areas.  New developments must consider a percentage as affordable housing.  If this is not reasonable they must contribute to the community by other means.  If developers want to capitalise on the beaches and sea views, they must give as well as take.
Accountability and Approachability
I have always been told on the door step that you only see politicians when they want your vote.  I will be available every week at a ward surgery.  I will post my contact details in shops, post office and the library.  I will create an email mailing list and feedback on progress within the council, for the ward, and as a whole.
Community Action
I will engage the community in voluntary action projects, whether it’s tidying the beaches, trimming hedgerows, or organising fun days and street parties, Rhosneigr will be an example of how communities can pull together and be proud of what they put in.  This has started already with the likes of Project Rhosneigr, and nearby Llanfaelog Community Garden.
Listen and Learn
The primary responsibility of any councillor is to serve.  I will listen, converse and formulate ideas with the people I’d serve.
Island Wide
I would be a strong voice for Anglesey.
With support from my Conservative AM colleagues in Cardiff I can make sure that we are heard in Cardiff.  Money from Europe, destined for Wales does not seem to travel that far up the A470!  There will be a new round of EU funding in 2013 and we need a strong case for support on Anglesey.  I can lead that case.
If you would like to contact me directly:
Email me:    mp.ynysmon@gmail.com
Martin Peet
Rhosneigr Council Candidate for the Welsh Conservatives"

I understand that in addition to Mr Peet, one other person has also put himself forward as a candidate. If that person would like to contact me I will be equally happy to print his pitch to Rhosneigr residents here.

Does anyone know if a hustings has been arranged?

Crowded house: the Welsh economy

The Welsh Economy
The Economist this week reports on two very interesting academic studies on the effects of increased government spending which could have a profound impact on our understanding of the Welsh economy.

The first study, by Harvard Business School academics, investigates whether higher government spending can "crowd out" private consumption and investment -- i.e. the phenomenon were government uses up financial and other resources (including personnel) that would otherwise be used by private enterprise. As an 'economy' is basically an aggregate of the actions of literally hundreds of millions of different people and organisations making diverse informed decisions on how to spend their money, the biggest problem faced by economists is to isolate just the factors they want to study -- in this case what influence increased government spending has on the private sector -- however the Harvard Business School academics hit on a very ingenious solution:

"When American politicians become chairmen of congressional committees, they are able to direct federal spending to their home states. To take one example, Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, became chairman of the Senate intelligence committee in 1997. Before that Alabama averaged $6m less in annual federal earmarks, or specific funding, than other states. After his appointment the state received $90m more than the average.
Chairmanships are based on seniority. They require another senator or congressman to lose their seat. Appointments have little relationship with economic activity in the state concerned, and extra spending will occur at all stages of the [business] cycle. It is a truly independent variable.
The academics examined 232 appointments across 42 years. They found the average state receives a 40-50% boost in earmarks in the year following a chairman’s appointment, an increase that persisted for the rest of his tenure. Private firms reacted by reducing capital expenditure (by 8-15%) and research and development (by 7-12%); employment and sales growth also suffered. This test appears fairly robust, as it covered a wide variety of states and was also reversed when the chairman stood down."

Furthermore the second study highlighted by The Economist and conducted by academics associated with the OECD discovered through statistical analysis of a panel of 145 countries between 1960 to 2007, that a 1% rise in government consumption as a share of GDP eventually reduced private-sector consumption by 1.9%.

If these findings are correct, what does this tell us about the Welsh economy were public spending as a share of GDP has, according to the latest figures, reached 69.1% -- second only in its reliance on the public sector to Northern Ireland?

Public spending as a share of GDP (source: CEBR)

I have previously written how, despite the Welsh Assembly spending more per capita than any other UK region on economic development, Wales still remains at or near the bottom of most indicators of economic health such as GVA, unemployment and business failures. The Institute of Welsh Affairs, which commissioned the research (and which counts the sainted Gerry Holtham on its management board), opined that the causes for this underperformance were general cack-handedness and a lack of accountability and transparency. However, bearing in mind the results of the above studies, is it not more likely that the growth of the Welsh private sector is in fact being artificially stunted due to the crowding-out effects of an overlarge public sector? It surely cannot be healthy for Wales that the government spends £7 out of every £10 spent in this country.

Furthermore, in the past both Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones have given speeches saying that the problem is not that the Welsh public sector is too large, but that the private sector is too small. But surely this is putting the cart before the horse -- under normal circumstances a country can only afford a public sector which can be sustainably paid for by its private sector. If the findings of the above studies are correct then they will have profound implications on our understanding of why the Welsh private sector is so stunted.

(Finally, before I am accused of hypocrisy for having called for Welsh Assembly support for the port of Holyhead just days ago, please note there is a big difference between targeted and limited government support and a structurally over-large public sector.)