Monday, 31 January 2011

Of nuts and sledgehammers.

I hadn't realised this previously but in 2003 the Welsh Assembly narrowly approved a measure which would allow local authorities to pay existing councillors up to £20,000 to step down and not seek re-election. The idea at the time was to encourage older councillors to retire thus making way for new and younger people with fresh ways of thinking. Councillors would be eligible for a payout of £1000 per year of service up to a maximum of £20,000.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that this is what Anglesey Country Council should do, but it does occur to me that, as distasteful as it seems, financially inducing a small number councillors to step down might have been a faster and ultimately more cost-effective way of solving Anglesey's problems. Instead the Welsh Assembly Government, through appointing a £160K a year MD and a recovery board stuffed with quangocrats (cost unknown), have taken a very expensive sledge hammer to crack a nut -- yet a year and a half later the 'nut' appears to be very much still intact!

Friday, 28 January 2011

The nuts and bolts of a merger with Gwynedd

In order to throw a little light on what exactly is behind the rumours that the Welsh Assembly Government is looking to merge Ynys Môn with Gwynedd, lets take a look at the actual last minute WAG amendments to the Local Government Measure which have sparked these stories. They have now been published (and are attached in full below this post) but this is the key passage:

"Welsh Ministers may, if they are satisfied that it is necessary to achieve effective local government, make an order ("an amalgamation order") for the constitution of a new local government area by amalgamating two or three local government areas."

The amendment goes on to stipulate that, before using the amalgamation powers, Welsh Ministers must be satisfied that local authorities have not achieved sufficient collaborative arrangements. However, although these powers are intended to be a last resort measure, it does look as though WAG Ministers will be able to amalgamate two or three local authorities where they feel it is necessary -- without, it seems, the need for any consultation.

There had been some questions about whether these amendments were legal as they were seen to significantly change the purpose of the Measure as it was originally tabled. However the legislation office and the Presiding Officer have ruled that they are within "the general principles" of the Measure and therefore it appears that WAG's intention is that they should be voted on next Wednesday (2 February) in Legislation Committee No. 3's meeting.

It is worth noticing that WAG has a majority in both the Committee and Plenary, so unless Plaid Cymru were to rebel, there is little chance of these amendments being blocked.

With regards to a timescale when these Measures would be implemented, it would not be for some time. The Local Government Measure still has to go through a third stage of having amendments tabled and voted on in Plenary, a fourth stage of the Measure being passed by the National Assembly, and a final stage of receiving Royal approval -- which will take several months. Even after that, the Minister would (should his amendments be approved in their current form) have to produce an amalgamation order which again could take some time.

Given the limited legislative time left in the Assembly (it will be dissolved in April prior to the election), it is unlikely that the Minister will be able to use any of these powers before May -- even if the Local Government Measure receives Royal Approval before then. Therefore, although these amendments will be voted on next week, there will be no immediate changes, and it is by no means certain that they will become law before the elections in May.

Who knows what will happen after May though...

UPDATE: The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) leader, John Davies, has slammed WAG's handling of these amendments:

WLGA leader John Davies said publishing amendments "at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour does fundamentally call into question the effective scrutiny of such an important piece of legislation both within the assembly and by stakeholders".
He welcomed [WAG Local Government Minster Carl Sargeant's] assurance that the amendment does not pave the way towards a wholesale reorganisation of local government.
Mr Davies added: "While this provides reassurance, it does bring into question why this did not form part of the extensive 18-month policy debate and evidence gathering sessions on the [Local Government] measure that have been undertaken within the assembly on which the WLGA were asked to give evidence.
"Clearly this is not only a matter for the WLGA but for assembly members who from recent headlines have also expressed a significant measure of dissatisfaction in this process.
"It is concerning that legislation as fundamental as the future structure of authorities can be done without scrutiny and wider engagement or consultation."

Ammendments Local Government Measure

Quote of the Day: Ynys Môn's last chance

BBC Wales's Welsh Affairs editor, Vaughan Roderick, reports:

"Dydw i ddim wedi llwyddo i ganfod un aelod cynulliad nad yw'n credu bod Cynghorwyr Môn wedi bratu eu cyfle olaf am achubiaeth."

Which translates as:

"I haven't been able to find one Assembly Member who doesn't believe that Anglesey's councillors have blown their last chance for salvation."

Thursday, 27 January 2011

WAG reaches for powers to forcibly merge Ynys Môn and Gwynedd

According to the BBC, the Welsh Assembly Government DID table several last minute amendments last night to the Local Government Measure which would allow WAG Ministers to forcibly merge councils, notably Ynys Môn and Gwynedd:

"The future of the troubled Anglesey Council is in doubt following new legal steps in the assembly.
Late amendments to the Local Government Measure would allow ministers to force councils to merge.
It is thought the island council - already with its management under special measures - faces a merger with nearby Gwynedd
Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant told AMs on Wednesday he had ruled out wide-scale mergers.
But he said it was his duty to 'step up to the mark' in the case of failing authorities to 'do something about them'.
His comments will strengthen speculation that an announcement about the future of Anglesey council will be made in the near future."

More to follow.

UPDATE: The Anglesey Telegraph has a great story about our councillors falling out live on BBC Radio Cymru this afternoon. Read it here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Carl Sargeant: conspicuously not coming to Ynys Môn

Despite the WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant visiting Gwynedd tomorrow he will be conspicuously NOT crossing the straits. Not to worry, I hear that a number of Anglesey councillors will be crossing the bridge to see him instead. One of them apparently will have a list of 22 names in his pocket -- all of whom are willing to take over from the currently daily diminishing minority alliance and form a new administration. Will this make any difference -- or has the Minister already made up his mind to send in the Commissioners? The fact that he attempted and failed today to include last minute amendments to the Local Government Measure currently going through the Assembly which would allow him to order the merger of councils by diktat suggests that his mind is already made.

My personal view is that any merger with Gwynedd (and now I am hearing that Conwy may also be in the mix too) would be disastrous financially for Ynys Môn for the following reasons:

  • Gwynedd Council currently has to find savings over the next few years of approx. £28.8 million, compared to 'just' £10 million at Ynys Môn (Conwy must find £21.9 million). A fully merged council would see these cuts shared between both councils. We have already seen something similar with the amalgamation of Local Health Boards across North Wales to create the Betsi Cadwalladr University Health Board. This led to the red ink at Glanclwyd and Maelor hospitals being shared throughout the region thus causing cuts at previously fiscally well managed Ysbyty Gwynedd. 
  • Average Council Tax is much higher in Gwynedd than Ynys Môn and a harmonisation of rates would undoubtedly result in a large rise in Anglesey (Average Band D council rates in Ynys Môn are £825.30 compared to £960.79 in Gwynedd -- a difference of £135).
  • Anglesey County Council has the second largest estate of small holdings in Wales. These are valuable assets which a cash strapped Gwynedd would seek to disperse in order to reduce their own financial problems.
  • Gwynedd Council has 75 councillors compared to just 40 in Ynys Môn. This imbalance would ensure that the merged council would operate in the best interests of Gwynedd not Ynys Môn.
  • Gwynedd Council is dominated by Plaid Cymru (36 Plaid Cymru members out of 75 councillors) meaning a merger would lead to Plaid Cymru dominating both councils (in Ynys Ynys Môn there are currently only 8 Plaid Cymru members out of 40). As Plaid Cymru are completely opposed to nuclear energy a potential merger would not be a helpful development at this crucial stage in Horizon's decision making process regarding Wylfa B.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Not with a bang but with a whimper...

All Anglesey Councillors have this afternoon received an email from the secretary of Elan Closs Stephens, Chair of the Recovery Board, to inform them that the planned governance workshop scheduled for next Monday in the Treaddur Bay Hotel has been cancelled. Normally that wouldn't mean very much, but after yesterday's sackings and the last minute amendments to the WAG Local Government Measure possibly designed to bring about the merger of Anglesey and Gwynedd being reported by the BBC, it looks like this cancellation is prima facie evidence that the Council is to be suspended.

If it is all over for Anglesey County Council, let us all remember that we have reached this point at this particular time for no good reason other than petty politicking by people wanting to become Leader, and with no plan or manifesto of what they would do differently if they did obtain that position. 

"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."

                                  - The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot

What next for Anglesey County Council?

Despite the sacking of Labour leader, John Chorlton, from the executive it is far from clear yet whether the Labour group itself will withdraw its support from the Alliance. Indeed it appears that John Chorlton's portfolio of Planning and Environment has been offered to another Labour councillor. With the budget yet to be finalised and a host of other important decisions just down the road, Labour now have the messy business of deciding whether to act in the best interests of the Island, or to continue to support a leader who has been sacked for apparently trying to undermine Council Leader, Clive McGregor.

Having said that, even if remaining Labour members continue to support it can the minority ruling alliance now limp on like this until the Council AGM in May? Will perhaps the Original Independents step in? The events of the next few days will be crucial in determining what David Bowles and Elan Closs Stevens will recommend to the Minister in Cardiff.

So what happens if they decide that the "recovery" has irrevocably broken down? Following WAG's instructions last month for Ynys Môn and Gwynedd to "cooperate" together, the simplest way forward for WAG would be to proceed with a full merger of the two councils. Indeed, rumours suggest that Plaid Cymru in particular is very much for this as the strong Plaid support on the mainland would pretty much guarantee Plaid control of the merged council.

Although I see no problem with greater cooperation between the two councils in delivering services, I would completely oppose any loss of sovereignty for Ynys Môn. Not only for cultural or historical reasons, but also because of the more practical reason that Gwynedd Council currently has a budget black hole of almost £30 million -- compared to 'just' £10 million on Anglesey. With 75 councillors in Gwynedd against just 40 in Ynys Môn, I'm sure it wouldn't be long before various Anglesey assets such as our exceptionally large smallholdings estate would be sold off with planning permissions in order to fill the budgetary hole on the other side of the Straits.

In my opinion the political problems by themselves are not a good enough reason to seek the full merger of Anglesey and Gwynedd. Internal governance procedures have been strengthened significantly since David Bowles's arrival and, with just a few exceptions, it is undeniable that Anglesey County Council actually provides remarkably good services -- the news last week that IoACC recycles more waste than any other council in Wales is just one example of this. An influx of new blood into the Council at the local elections in 2012 -- and a campaign to ensure that -- would be the best remedy for our political problems, not a rushed and short-sighted merger with Gwynedd.

Monday, 24 January 2011

++ Clive McGregor sacks John Chorlton and Hefin Thomas ++

Clive McGregor has this morning sacked Labour group leader, John Chorlton, and Independent, Hefin Thomas, from the Executive. Clive will be giving an interview to the BBC this afternoon. More to follow.

UPDATE: It appears that a certain Welsh national party leader became involved in the background over the weekend prompting today's occurrences.

A real legacy for Ynys Môn

A legacy to Ynys Môn? The Shell site in Rhosgoch. 
One of the more unpredictable side-effects of the heavy snow in December was that it forced a delay in the process of selling Anglesey Aluminium's Penrhos site. Whereas all bids were originally supposed to be in by January 10th, the snow made site visits by potential buyers impossible and consequently the deadline for bids was pushed back to last Friday. The Daily Post quotes a company source saying "the site had attracted strong interest from a range of industrial sectors" including "at least one wind turbine manufacturer and a smelting firm". My guess is that the wind turbine manufacturer involved is Windpower Wales.

There has been a suggestion trailed in the local press by the Labour party that Anglesey Aluminium shouldn't be selling the site but should instead donate it to the Island, similar to the way Shell donated its Rhosgoch tank farm site back in the 1970s. As this would effectively mean transferring the land to Anglesey County Council -- the same body which is currently riven once again by infighting and has failed over the decades to make any effective use of the Rhosgoch site whatsoever -- I would far prefer to see AAM sell the site on the open market to companies which can use it to bring work back to Holyhead as soon as possible.

In fact the prospectus of sale for the site contains some very unusual requirements for potential bidders which gives me great hope that it will not just be sold off to property developers for example. In addition to asking for audited accounts, bank details and so on, bidders are also required to provide the following information:

  • Evidence of the company’s track record of purchasing, developing and managing large industrial complexes and sites, and the job creation/quality of jobs created that resulted from these projects.
  • A maximum of three relevant examples of projects where you have worked in partnership with the public sector to deliver new employment and regeneration. Please confirm the company’s role and also provide details of the public sectors’ role in these projects including referees from whom we could take up references.

Doesn't sound like AAM is just planning to sell off the site to property developers, does it?

The best possible legacy which AAM could leave for Anglesey would be to ensure that the site is bought by companies which will use the Penrhos site and its infrastructure productively whilst also creating long term jobs. Lets hope that this happens.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Discount fuel scheme for rural areas?

With Unleaded fuel now costing around 130p a litre and Diesel around 134p a litre on Ynys Môn (source), this is just a quick post to say how glad I am to see that the Coalition is considering introducing a discount fuel scheme to help drivers living in remote areas, including West Wales. This would be in addition to separate proposals for a fuel duty stabiliser, which would seek to keep fuel prices steady by counter adjusting the amount of duty added to forecourt prices according to the price of oil.

This is what Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told BBC1's politics show earlier this week:

"We are already also taking steps, and we are the first Government that's done this, to put in place a fuel duty discount scheme for remote communities where the prices are absolutely highest, something previous governments refused to do."

Unfortunately, according to the BBC, it seems it could take some time to implement:

"The UK needs EU permission to charge different fuel duty rates around the country. Ministers hope to make a formal request after the Budget.
EU law means the UK would need the European Commission to propose the scheme, and the EU's finance ministers to unanimously support the idea at an ECOFIN meeting.
Once the request is made by the UK, it will take three months for the commission to draw up a proposal and several further months for it to be agreed. Only then would a pilot scheme be possible."

The pilot scheme, which will provide a discount of up to 5p per litre of petrol or diesel, will apparently be rolled out in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles, and the Isles of Scilly. If it is successful it will also be introduced to the Scottish Highlands, Western Isles, West Wales and parts of England and Northern Ireland.

The VAT rise is not ideal (I have always personally questioned why VAT is even levied on fuel considering how much duty is anyway applied) but at least the government is looking at ways of addressing the issue of higher fuel prices in rural areas like Ynys Môn.

Nine times in two years.

Just nine times in two years.

That's on how many occasions our AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, has explicitly discussed matters relating to Ynys Môn during debates in the Welsh Assembly.

Prompted by having had several Anglesey residents tell me that they thought Ieuan Wyn Jones seemed distant and distracted I spent an afternoon going though the transcripts of the 131 plenary sessions held in the Senedd in 2009 and 2010. My aim was to find out just how often our AM raises matters relating to the Island. The answer was that he has explicitly discussed Anglesey on just five occasions in 2010, and four occasions in 2009.

Furthermore, even though he hardly ever brings up matters relating to the island, when he does he talks about either the Air-link (22 September 2010, 26 May 2010, 19 May 2010, 27 April 2010) or trivial issues such letters to Ynys Môn being mistakenly addressed to Gwynedd (3 March 2010), or speculation about whether Barack Obama has ties to Anglesey (20 January 2009). But during important debates about the severe problems at Anglesey County Council he doesn’t speak at all. For instance during a debate on 11 November 2009 about the introduction of the Recovery Board to Anglesey Council, Ieuan is totally silent, and on video appears to be sitting writing emails. See for yourself below:

Ieuan Wyn Jones claims that now he is a Minister he cannot show any favouritism towards his constituency. But Anglesey residents aren’t asking for favouritism, they are only asking for proper representation. With the closure of Anglesey Aluminium (450 jobs), Eaton Electric (240 jobs), Menai Electrical (50 jobs), Readileads (35 jobs), Peboc (100 jobs) and countless other small businesses, Ynys Môn needs a dedicated AM prepared to fight Anglesey’s corner.

This election is about two simple things: do people think IWJ has the interests of Anglesey at heart, and can he bring the economic recovery the island desperately needs. People can make up their own minds, but on this evidence, I cannot see he does.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Hawl i Holi report

I attended the first of the latest set of Hawl i Holi meetings in Llangefni last night. Over 40 members of the public turned up -- a big improvement on the last such meeting I attended --  and a lively exchange ensued between the Executive, still led by Clive McGregor, and the assembled residents.

The meeting began with a presentation of the financial problems facing the council as a result of the public sector cuts, best summarised by the below figures:

You can find full details of the proposed budget here on the council website.

The majority of questions related to two subjects: specifics regarding the actual local cuts themselves, and the ongoing political turmoil at the council. There was also a very forceful statement regarding the council having given only very short notice indeed in informing the public that these Hawl i Holi meetings will also represent a formal 'public consultation' into the proposed budget for 2011/12. The Photon has already written a very accurate and detailed pen portrait of the meeting so I won't repeat everything here.

I asked two questions:

1. How the job losses at Anglesey County Council will be managed, specifically will there be any forced redundancies? How will it affect consultants and agency staff? And whether the council is considering implementing a deal similar to that announced at Neath Port Talbot whereby the total number of job losses have been reduced due to workers earning over £21,000 p.a. accepting a one-off 2 percent pay cut and a three year freeze. 

Answer: Basically the council will be having discussions with the unions today and therefore cannot answer those questions in detail yet. Cllr Cliff Everett added that the situation in Neath Port Talbot was considerably different from Ynys Môn because of the large size of that council and solutions which work there may not be appropriate here.

2. I fully support Wylfa B, but we need to be aware that the new power station will generate approximately 3,300MW (roughly three times more than Wylfa A) and an additional 4,000MW will be coming in at peak time from the wind farms in the Irish sea. Therefore, how will all this power be transmitted off the island as the current supergrid has nowhere near that capacity? Scarring the island with hundreds of additional pylons will certainly not help our nascent tourism business. As we are hosting a power facility for the benefit of the entire country, the council needs to ensure that Anglesey is respected for its contribution and that strong representations are made to the National Grid to use either submarine or underground cabling.

Answer: The council is aware of the issue and discussions are going on with all the parties involved - "Watch this space".

The meeting ended with an appeal from the Leader, Clive McGregor, for more people to consider standing for election as county councillors in the 2012 local elections. Currently only 5 percent (i.e. 2 out of 40) of councillors in Ynys Môn are female compared to a Wales average of 22 percent. Furthermore the average age of county councillors on Anglesey is 63.5 years, fully five years older than the national Wales average of 57 years. If you fancy becoming a councillor, you are invited to get in touch with the elections department on 01248 752815 or email Clive even went so far as to suggest that a two term limit should be introduced for Councillors on Ynys Môn so as to ensure a regular intake of new blood -- something which is included in the People's Manifesto and a measure I would wholeheartedly endorse. Now that really would be a legacy for the Island, Clive!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Hawl i Holi returns

This week sees the return of Anglesey County Council's 'Hawl i Holi' sessions, which allow residents to directly question the Leader and members of the Executive Committee regarding any council issue. The schedule is as below and all meetings run from 7-9pm:

18 January   Council Chamber, Llangefni
24 January   Ysgol Gynradd Llanfairpwll
25 January   Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones, Amlwch
26 January   Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern
27 January   Llanddeusant, Village Hall
1 February    Hoyhead High School
2 February    Beaumaris Leisure Centre

These meetings are not perfect. In my opinion they have been too restrictively MC'd in the past and are often poorly attended -- but so are other public meetings on the Island, including for example those I recently attended held by the North Wales Police.

The Council Chamber in Llangefni. See you there?
The last two posts on this blog regarding the turmoil at the top of the council have (at the time of writing) attracted over 300 comments. It is obvious that residents are concerned about the current trajectory of the council and therefore I hope that commenters will avail themselves of the opportunity to put their questions and comments directly to the Leader and the members of the Executive. I know I will.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Beaumaris Castle: more popular than the Beatles

Beaumaris Castle: still pulling them in 700 years later
Amidst a pervading atmosphere lately of doom and gloom, I was especially heartened to learn that Welsh Castles are the single biggest attraction for foreign visitors to the United Kingdom -- more popular even that touring Buckingham Palace, attending a premier league match, or visiting Harrods.

The survey, carried out by Visit Britain in 20 countries across the world asked 10,000 respondents to choose which activity they would most like to do if they came to Britain. Here are the results:

  • Tour Welsh castles: 34%
  • Tour Buckingham Palace: 32%
  • A night in a Scottish castle: 29%
  • Stonehenge sunrise: 29%
  • Premier League match: 19%
  • Harrods shopping: 19%
  • Scottish whisky tour: 15%
  • Shakespeare at The Globe: 11%
  • Wimbledon: 11%
  • Beatles tour of Liverpool: 11%

With castles dotted all over North West Wales, in Caernarfon, Conwy, Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan, Harlech, Criccieth, and of course in Beaumaris, it shows what an extraordinary resource they are for attracting visitors and promoting tourism. Indeed, the tourism industry is now worth annually £215 million to Ynys Môn (several times more than is currently derived from Agriculture on the Island), and it is clear that Beaumaris castle is the tourism jewel in Ynys Môn's crown.

However its not difficult to argue that Anglesey is punching well below it weight when it comes to retaining tourists on the Island. This is amply demonstrated by our experiences with the Cruise Ships mooring at Holyhead: a great many of the passengers get on coaches which take them directly off the island to Caernarfon or Betws Y Coed. Accordingly we need to do more to provide a diversity of attractions (all with all important coach parks) to complement Beaumaris Castle and compete with what is available over the bridges. I will be writing more about this shortly...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Pass the parcel in Holyhead.

The row regarding who should fund extending the deep sea port in Holyhead to accommodate possible plans to convert the Anglesey Aluminium site in Holyhead into a wind turbine factory has erupted again. I have already previously written about it here and here and my views remain the same.

I would add this however: Ieuan Wyn Jones is this time quoted by the BBC as saying, "There is a fantastic potential for renewable energy projects but because ports are not a devolved issue, it is inappropriate for us to be allocating resources towards it". In other words, Ieuan Wyn Jones recognises what a fantastic opportunity this could be, but would rather try to score political points against Westminster than take action to create well paid jobs in one of the poorest towns in Wales.

Alex Salmond and Li Keqiang raising a glass
to scottish pragmatism (Photo: LA Times)
As it happens ports are not devolved in Scotland either but that has not stopped the Scottish Government strategically investing in their development. The Scots' pragmatic attitude was rewarded this week when the Vice Premier of China, Li Keqiang, started his four day trade visit to the UK in Edinburgh and signed a $10m renewables deal. Mr Li does not intend to visit Wales and Ieuan Wyn Jones's attitude makes it clear why.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Stepping back from the edge...

After taking the Council to the brink of another bout of bloodletting at the end of last week, Anglesey county councillors have now stepped back and taken the decision to wait it out.

The unrest was originally sparked by disquiet over the serious lack of progress in preparing next year's budget, and culminated on Friday with current Leader, Clive McGregor, announcing that he would not seek another term as Leader at the AGM in May.

Those dissatisfied with Clive McGregor met again on Monday to discuss whether they would continue to force a vote of no confidence or not. That afternoon however they took part in a video conference with Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), and it appears that they were told that the Welsh Assembly Government would not look kindly on any further unnecessary political turmoil and instead advised them to prepare for an orderly transfer of power when Clive McGregor steps down in May. In parallel it seems that the frontrunner to replace Clive McGregor was contacted directly by the Minister and advised to reconsider.

The race is now on to appoint a "Leader in Waiting" who can work in parallel with Clive McGregor until May and thus ensure some continuity post AGM. So far there are three hats in the ring (including the previous frontrunner) -- and each has been calling around trying to drum up support. It seems there will be some internal group meetings over the next couple of days to informally vote on preferred candidates.

More news soon...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Consulting on Wylfa

On Thursday night I attended the latest public consultation exercise on Wylfa B, held at Cemaes Bay Village Hall, where two representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were present to consult and answer questions.

The meeting was well attended with over 60 persons in the audience -- including a small but vocal contingent from PAWB (People Against Wylfa B) who made clear their ongoing opposition to the plans to construct a second nuclear plant in Anglesey. They questioned the safety of on-site storage for spent waste (DECC response: new innovative storage methods now mean that waste would only need to be held on site for decades, rather than previous estimates of around 160 years); the costs to Anglesey taxpayers of having to support enhanced emergency services (DECC response: Horizon will pay business rates which will cover these services -- the example was given of Sizewell B which pays around £25 million per annum in business rates); Where the uranium will come from (DECC response: Australia); and other questions relating to largely to terrorism and ecological concerns.

There were also a very large number of pro-Wylfa B supporters in the audience, and later statements in support of the new plant -- including one from Cllr Aled Morris Jones, the chairman of Wylfa SSG -- resulted in loud cheers and applause.

I am a strong supporter of Wylfa B (and C, D, E, etc.) -- however, I would like Ynys Môn to have its cake and eat it too. Therefore in order to preserve the natural beauty of the rest of the island and ensure we can continue to grow our tourism industry, it is essential that National Grid is pressed to transmit the electricity generated by Wylfa B via marine cable rather than via the cheaper option of building further pylons across the island. National Grid will need to carry out a seperate consultation and planning application when they announce their plans (date unknown) however in the meantime I will be contacting them to ascertain their plans and press them to consider using marine cables.

Friday, 7 January 2011

++ Clive McGregor to step down ++ (updated)

Clive McGregor
On Monday I predicted that the stress-fractures within the ruling Alliance in Anglesey County Council would likely see it fall apart before the end of 2011. Well, it seems that we may not have to wait that long as the BBC are reporting that Council Leader, Clive McGregor, has sent a letter to all members informing them that he does not intend to seek re-election as Leader at the annual AGM in May. The letter states:

"I wish to inform you that I intend to continue as Leader of the Council until the Annual General Meeting on May, 2011 ... I will not be putting my name forward for a further period as Leader of the authority."

The BBC further reports that Clive McGregor sent the letter in response to members both inside and outside the Alliance seeking to replace him with a new Leader. We will no doubt only have a short wait to discover if this letter will be enough to persuade those county councillors who are dissatisfied with Clive McGregor to wait until May. If they do continue to press for him to stand down right away, the crucial test will be how Elan Closs Stephens and the rest of the Recovery Board will view the takeover and the possible effects it will have on the recovery process. A lot will hang on who the new Leader will be -- if, for instance, they put forward a Labour councillor as the new Leader it will surely be politically difficult for a Labour-led coalition in Cardiff Bay to state that the recovery process has irreparably broken down and send in the Commissioners... 

UPDATE Jan 10 14:20: The BBC are reporting that opposition group leaders will meet later today to discuss whether to force a vote of no confidence or not. I understand that this meeting will also include some coalition member group leaders too.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

North Wales heart patients "banned" from top Liverpool hospital

The news that the NHS Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital will no longer accept North Wales patients due to a "shortfall in funding from Wales" is extremely worrying news -- especially as so many residents from Ynys Môn and elsewhere in North Wales rely on the excellent treatment available there (including the author of the excellent Anglesey Telegraph blog). Until now the LHCH has apparently been carrying out up to 70 pre-planned elective operations on Welsh patients and dealing with up to 50 more urgent cases each month. According to the Daily Post some Welsh patients waiting for heart bypass and cardiac valve surgery have now been told that they have been "bumped off the waiting lists". Dr Eamonn Jessop, vice-chairman of the North Wales Local Medical Committee, says the situation is a "unmitigated disaster" which will "put patients lives at risk". Presumably North Wales patients will now need to travel down to hospitals in South Wales in order to receive such treatment. Not only is this a considerable journey for people who are seriously unwell, it is also counter to the long standing geographic and human links between North Wales and North West England.

Personally I am amazed that this extremely serious situation has been allowed to come this far without being addressed sooner -- its difficult to imagine that a similar situation would have been allowed to arise in South Wales for example.

However this episode unfortunately provides yet further evidence that there are serious problems with with Welsh NHS funding -- particularly in North Wales. In November we learned that the Betsi Cadawaladr University Health Board planned to possibly cut maternity services in Ysbyty Gwynedd, Glan Clwyd and Werxham Maelor to provide midwife-led units. Speaking about these proposals the same Dr Jessup told BBC Radio Wales, "If we say there are 10 women in Glan Clwyd that have to have caesareans performed in 15 minutes, they cannot have that done, and that will be five to 10 babies who will die ... I'm sorry to put it that bluntly, but I really cannot see any way around that, and it will undoubtedly cause perinatal death, I'm afraid". These plans are now being reviewed I understand, but remarkably North Wales residents campaigning to preserve the Special Care Baby Units in Wrexam, Conwy and Wrexham were earlier dubbed "mischief makers" by WAG Health Minister, Edwina Hart, who further suggested that those concerned should take their children to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital "to get the best treatment". Not very reassuring.

What is the cause of these budgetary problems? Simply put the Labour-Plaid coalition in WAG have already announced that the Welsh NHS budget will be cut by £435 million this year, and by a further £885 million over the next three years. Even allowing for waste within the service these levels of cuts will almost certainly have consequences as we are already discovering in North Wales. The Welsh Conservatives' alternative proposals of ring-fencing health spending in Wales have been criticised for engendering deeper cuts in other government departments -- however my own personal opinion is that politics in this age of austerity is all about setting priorities. We need to accept that not all government spending is equal and that some services -- especially health services -- are so important to all of us that they deserve greater protection.

If you are an Ynys Môn resident who has been affected by any of these issues, please do get in touch through the contact me section above.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Ynys Môn in 2011

Croeso i 2011
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd! Happy New Year to you all!

Making predictions is a perilous business -- however in order to understand what problems potentially lie ahead and to plan effectively to counter them we need to have a view of what to look out for over the year ahead. Accordingly I'm happy to stick my neck out and share with you what I think 2011 has in store for Ynys Môn:

Anglesey County Council

Wales's highest paid civil servant, David Bowles - the Assembly Government appointed Interim MD to IoACC - will certainly leave the council this year. His two year contract will end in September -- though he may very well leave even earlier in order to save costs. There will be no direct replacement; instead in all likelihood Gwynedd's Chief Executive Harry Thomas will take over the running of both Anglesey and Gwynedd with an Anglesey-based Deputy appointed from within IoACC. There will no doubt be a pruning of heads of departments as several functions are shared between Gwynedd and Anglesey.

Politically 2011 will be an unpredictable year for the Council. The departure of David Bowles will no doubt have a large impact on Councillors and it will be interesting to see if the contentious Terms of Engagement will survive him -- or whether Harry Thomas will be as keen to enforce them. It is also likely that 2011 will see the two Councillors reported to the Ombudsman have their day before Adjudication Panel for Wales -- leading to untold consequences inside the council chamber whatever the judgement.

The ruling Alliance, made up of Plaid Cymru, Labour, and two groups of Independents, is already suffering from a number of stress-fractures and it is difficult to see it surviving the year -- particularly considering that in addition to the changes outlined above it will also be forced to push through unpopular cuts. The local council elections in 2012 will begin to weigh ever heavier on Councillors minds as the year unfolds.

The Island Economy

2011 will be a very difficult year for the UK as the government begins to implement policies designed to reduce the national deficit, forcing us to come to terms with the systematic overspending of the past decade. Despite its status as the poorest place in the UK, Ynys Môn will not be immune to this process and will be affected by the VAT and fuel duty rises, changes to welfare payments, and reduced council services amongst others.

Fortunately there should be some light on the 'horizon' for the Island. Following the coalition government's quick action to both approve Wylfa as a 'preferred' nuclear location and introduce measures to ensure the profitability of low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear, 2011 should be the year when Horizon officially indicates it will proceed to build Wylfa B. This will provide a huge boost to Ynys Môn's ailing economy by providing in the short-term huge numbers of construction jobs -- hopefully coming in time to take the strain caused by job losses elsewhere. The construction phase will take several years and bring with it a large influx of workers which will boost Anglesey's retail and housing sectors in addition to other small businesses.

The other major employers on the Island -- the port of Holyhead and RAF Valley -- will hopefully not see any major changes in 2011. The Search and Rescue function will certainly be retained at Valley, whilst announcements regarding the future of the T Mk 1 Hawks are not expected until 2012. With regards to Holyhead, with traffic through the port anyway down since the collapse of building boom in Ireland, people who I have spoken to at the port don't believe that passenger numbers will be further affected by the current economic turmoil in Ireland -- which is cautiously good news.

However, in the long term, the most important sector for the Island economy in 2011 will be its small and medium sized indigenous businesses. In addition to the benefits they will accrue from the construction of Wylfa B, they will also be helped by the reduction in April 2011 of corporation tax for small businesses from 21% to 20% and the ongoing National Insurance holiday for new qualifying businesses outside of the South East. Unfortunately they will receive little help from the Welsh Assembly Government itself. Small businesses in Wales already pay higher business rates than anywhere else in the UK (in this context it should be noted that the Welsh Conservatives pledge to remove all small businesses with a rateable value below £10,000 out of business rates altogether -- benefitting approx. 19,000 North Wales small firms) and Ieuan Wyn Jones's misdirected Economic Renewal Programme has removed any support from Anglesey's small businesses through halving the total budget and then limiting all economic support to certain sectors only. Furthermore Ieuan Wyn Jones recent calls to delay income tax bills for small firms would do nothing but modify cash flow -- instead of an overall reduction in outflow, like a business rate reduction would do. We need to find ways of reducing bills for small businesses not simply moving the problem until later.

Môn Mam Cymru

Proportionately more people are employed in fields related to farming and agriculture on Anglesey than anywhere else in North Wales. Accordingly we need a healthy and profitable farming industry -- however Anglesey's farms will begin to come under great pressure towards the end of 2011. Single Farm Payments, worth around £10 million per annum to Ynys Môn, are denominated in Euros (at an exchange rate set on 30th September each year) and are therefore vulnerable to the current Euro crisis being played out on the continent. Should other Eurozone countries join Greece and Ireland then it is possible that the sterling value of Single Farm Payments scheduled for December 2011 will be much reduced. On top of this WAG's new agri-environment scheme 'Glastir'  -- which will eventually replace the existing four schemes (Tir Mynydd, Tir Cynnal, Tir Gofal, and the Organic Farming Scheme) -- has been lambasted by farmers for offering too little financial incentive compared to the amount of work required to qualify. So few farmers have applied that WAG has been forced to U-turn on its proposals to begin phasing out Tir Mynydd payments (received by 420 Anglesey farms) this year. However without major changes to Glastir in 2011 farmers will see their incomes further reduced in coming years.


Tourism brings in approx. £215m per annum for Ynys Môn and has become increasingly more and more important to the Island economy. The Royal Wedding and presence on Anglesey of William and Kate in 2011 will provide us with an unrivalled window of opportunity to boost tourism for a generation -- but only if we make the right decisions early in 2011. The council needs to recognise this opportunity and implement a short-term tourism strategy designed to 'sell' the island globally over the next 12 months. Furthermore council plans to offload the various tourist attractions it currently runs should be suspended until 2012 at least unless suitable and stable partners can be found with the means and desire to run them well. My recommendations in full are here.

Island House Prices

According to the latest Halifax Country House Price survey the average house price in Anglesey in 2010 fell from £164,300 to £145,147 -- the equivalent of a 11.7% drop. As far as I am concerned this is good news for the Island as it brings the house price to earnings ratio marginally down from 6.7x to 5.6x.

The media is suggesting that the presence of William and Kate will make property on the island attractive to certain second home hunters thus pushing up prices in 2011. The probable beginning of an influx of workers for Wylfa B will also lead to house price inflation -- making it absolutely imperative that the joint LDP between Anglesey and Gwynedd frees up enough land for the building of new houses to keep prices stable. The whole issue of Affordable Homes on Ynys Môn is something I intend to return to shortly.

Elections and Referendums

There will the two referendums held in 2011: the vote on extra powers for the Welsh Assembly will be won, the nationwide poll on changing the first-past-the-post election system to AV will be lost. The Welsh Assembly election in May on Ynys Môn will be very, very close. I will do everything I can to provide a local, Welsh, energetic alternative to a tired Ieuan Wyn Jones. Whatever the result, I promise to make sure that the issues of jobs and the Island economy will be at the very top of the agenda -- ensuring that whoever succeeds at the polls, Ynys Môn will be the winner.

I would be very interested in hearing your predictions for 2011...