Friday, 29 April 2011

A Royal Wedding Flashback

For all Royal Wedding watchers on Ynys Môn, I fully recommend this brilliantly written post by regular commenter, ex-soldier, and newest Anglesey blogger, 'Red Flag', as he poignantly and entertainingly recalls his time lining the route of wedding of Prince Charles and late Princess Diana in 1981.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Seven days to go...

As you may have noticed the amount of new blogposts by myself has decreased over the last couple of months or so. This has been due the demands of campaigning: including attending various hustings, public meetings, and, most importantly, the pounding of pavements all over Sir Fôn actually meeting people and businesses. 

Over the last year and a half I have chronicled through this blog the economic, civic, and social problems faced by the Ynys Môn. This Island has over the the past ten years lost over 2,100 private-sector jobs – the equivalent of the entire population of Beaumaris.  Well known companies which survived the recession of the 1980s and 90s, which have provided stable, well paid work for generations of Islanders have in recent years closed in rapid succession:

  • 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 with a loss of 110 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 Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 400 jobs in September 2009
  • The Eaton Electric plant in Holyhead opened in 1960 under the name Midland Electric Manufacturing Company, it operated all through the 80s and 90s and closed just three months after Anglesey Aluminium in December 2009 with a loss of 250 jobs

And these are just the big companies, countless other small local businesses and shops have also gone out of business – as witnessed by the numbers of empty fonts on the high streets of our main towns. As a result Ynys Môn is, according to the Office for National Statistics, now firmly planted at the bottom of the UK's prosperity league table with a GVA per head figure of just half of the national average. The case for economic support for Ynys Môn is clear and apparent, yet when the Welsh Assembly Government distributes its business support funding we discover that Ynys Môn, like much of North Wales, receives well below the average spend per head:

Total business grants received by each local authority per head of population
since introduction of Economic Renewal Programme in July 2010
click to enlarge

Agriculture has also been hard hit, with the economic contribution of agriculture on the Island having declined by 68 percent over the ten years up to 2007. This has directly affected the Welsh Country Foods abattoir and meat-packaging plant in Gaerwen (where, incidentally, I found my first paid job). It began operating back in 1980s and continued throughout that decade and the 1990s and only began downsizing in 2009 with a loss of 200 jobs; the 'Chuckies' chicken processing plant in Llangefni was established even earlier and also continued production throughout the 80s and 90s, until it lost a whole shift (140 jobs) in 2009. Where is Môn Mam Cymru now?

And then we come to the Council. With the recent appointment of the Commissioners by WAG, Ynys Môn has now suffered the most stringent local government intervention ever seen in the Wales. The political problems at the council could and should have been sorted out 15 years ago, not allowed to fester and continue until this point. Will the latest intervention solve the problems? To be frank the latest signs are not encouraging at all.

This election gives us a real chance to draw a line under the past. If like me you feel strongly about the decline of Ynys Môn and think we need a new representative in the Welsh Assembly , then I would like to ask you to join my campaign and help rebuild our Island. 

As we move into the last week of the campaign if you would like to take part and help by...

  • delivering leaflets
  • canvassing door to door or by telephone 
  • putting a sign in your window

...or in any other way, then please use the 'contact me' section above and get in touch!

Friday, 22 April 2011

An intelligent use for Rhosgoch.

The disused Shell site at Rhosgoch: time to put it to good use.
Its great to hear that a consortium of ten community and town councils in northern Ynys Môn have put forward proposals to convert the disused 198 acre Shell Site at Rhosgoch into a 'Centre Parcs' type attraction. The proposal is for Wylfa B developers Horizon to build accommodation for their workers on the site, which could then be converted into an adventure holiday destination following the completion of the new reactor.

This proposal would effectively kill two birds with one stone. Firstly a new and dedicated estate for housing workers would ensure that a large proportion of the Island's tourist accommodation is not displaced during Wylfa B's construction – it would be difficult to grow our tourism industry if all the existing tourist accommodation was taken up by Wylfa workers. Secondly it finally finds a fantastic dual-purpose use for the Rhosgoch site, which has remained as wasteland ever since it was donated to the Island by Shell back in the 1980s. The influx of holiday makers to such an attraction would also provide an invaluable long-term boost in the arm to the economy of Amlwch and its surrounding area.

Its worth pointing out that a suggestion to convert the Rhosgoch site into exactly this kind of attraction was included in the crowd-sourced 'People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn', created by contributors to this blog last July:

'The Council should consider promoting the creation of a unique, big attraction somewhere on the Island which combines Anglesey’s strengths (its suitability as a water sports venue coupled with its proximity to the Snowdonia National Park) and has the potential to attract new visitors from Liverpool, Manchester, the Midlands and elsewhere in North Wales - without cannibalising existing businesses in the way, for example, a retail park would. One suggestion would be something like a ‘Centre Parc’ crossed with the ‘Eden Project’ crossed with the ‘Coed y Brenin’ Mountain Biking Centre. Such an attraction could offer visitors boating, walking, riding, various cycling paths, swimming pools with slides and waves, etc. - and all within a short distance from other activities in Snowdonia National Park. The facility would also offer tiered accommodation and a network of shops and restaurants. The council’s role would be to identify a suitable site, provide access roads, car parks, drainage, and then find a suitable private company to build and operate the site. The old Shell site at Rhosgoch might be a suitable location for this attraction - it belongs to the council, has remained unused for 20 years, is fairly tranquil and is close to the sea."

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

“They're more interested in making the backs of the buildings look nice for the ferries”

The Daily Post backs Enterprise Zone status for Holyhead
I was in Holyhead on Monday with Wales Office Minister, David Jones MP, to meet with local small business and shop owners to discuss the economic problems facing the town. The general consensus was that despite the millions which have been ploughed into Holyhead over the years, due to a lack of consultation with local residents and businesses (“they just do what they want to do”), and due to a lack of vision and direction in both WAG and the County Council, the economic fortunes of the town have declined rather than improved. This is certainly borne out by the fact that Holyhead now has the highest jobseekers to vacancy ratio in all of Wales. There was also great dissatisfaction that more had not been done to help two of the town’s largest employers, Anglesey Aluminium and Eaton Electric, which both closed within months of each other in 2009 losing 700 jobs between them – the eleventh hour offer of a £48m loan to Anglesey Aluminium was “too little, too late”.  In terms of attracting new businesses to replace them the feeling was that too much money and effort was being spent on brushing up the appearance of the place (“they're more interested in making the backs of the buildings look nice for the ferries”) but not enough was being done to proactively support the existing small businesses or attract new enterprises which should provide the beating heart of any town. Unsurprisingly the Council and many of its members came in for severe criticism.

There are of course no silver bullets for the economic problems being faced in Holyhead or, indeed, all over Ynys Môn. But one thing is certain: you cannot continue to do the same things and expect different outcomes. The time has come to try something radically different and that is why I have been pushing for Holyhead to become the first Enterprise Zone in Wales. Announced in last month’s Budget, 21 Enterprise Zones will be set up in England, with the closest one to us being in Wirral Waters, Birkenhead. As Economic Development is devolved in Wales, WAG has now received £65m as the ‘Barnett consequential’ of this policy and it will be up to the new Welsh Government to decide post May 5th how to use this money. I sincerely hope that WAG will give serious thought to introducing a similar Enterprise Zone policy here in Wales due to their terrific potential to help revive some of our most economically struggling areas – and to this end,  I’m delighted that the Daily Post has also come out in support of my calls for Holyhead to become Wales’ first Enterprise Zone (see image above).

In terms of the specifics of Enterprise Zones, the Welsh Conservatives would push for the following:

  • tax breaks for both existing and new businesses – including the lifting of business rates and discussions with Westminster on the possibility of also obtaining corporation tax reductions
  • simplified planning rules to assist businesses setting up or expanding
  • the roll out of super-fast broadband

It is also important to note that the benefits of having an Enterprise Zone in Holyhead would not be just confined to Holyhead. As Ynys Môn’s largest town, it is in the interests of the Island as a whole to have a thriving, profitable and growing economy in Holyhead. Enterprise Zones have their critics, but quite frankly, its time to try something new and radical in Holyhead: to simply carry on tinkering around the edges will not change anything.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Carwyn Jones accuses me of "negative personality politics"

Just a quick post to update you that last week I sent a letter to the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, raising concerns regarding the appointment of Alex Aldridge as a Commissioner by WAG Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant. It was reported in the Daily Post here.

I made the point to the First Minister that although this latest intervention was necessary, it has effectively brought about the suspension of local democracy on Ynys Môn at exactly the time when Island services will need to be rationalised. Accordingly, as nobody can be held democratically accountable for the decisions made, it is essential that residents have absolute confidence in the abilities of the Commissioners and the process by which they were appointed. In my opinion, and in the opinion of other residents I have spoken to, the appointment of Mr Aldridge fails both of these tests.


Firstly, whilst Mr Aldridge was the Leader of Flintshire County Council, it suffered numerous and serious failures of corporate governance (including this one) which make the goings on at Anglesey Council appear like child's play in comparison.

Secondly, because its appears that the usual Nolan guidelines for the selection of Ministerial appointments have not been followed. Mr Aldridge is known to be a friend and associate of Mr Sargeant's and the public perception, rightly or wrongly, is of one Labour politician from Flintshire appointing another Labour politician from Flintshire to a public-funded position without seemingly having followed the correct procedures. Surely this is not the way in which the Welsh Assembly Government should be bringing about a “democratic renewal” in a place like Ynys Môn?

My letter has generated a furious response from the First Minister. Regarding my first point, he writes:

"You allege that he is not suitable appointee because of certain matters which occurred within Flintshire County Council around ten years ago. I do not think it reasonable to blame the leader of a council for the detail of how the Council's maintenance stores operate and similar matters. Nor can it be right to drag up old issues which have long since resolved and use them to attack people who have much else to offer."

I'm afraid I don't think it 'unreasonable'.  And, as it happens, it is not just I who has questioned Mr Aldridge's appointment considering the numerous failings at Flintshire under his watch.  Even the national magazine, Private Eye, raised its eyebrow at Mr Aldridge's appointment in last week's Rotten Borough's column (sadly not online).

Regarding my second point the First Minister writes:

"[Mr Aldridge] and the other Commissioners were appointed because of their experience and expertise ... All Commissioners were selected following a process of shortlisting, sifting and interviewing on the basis of objective criteria, and all of this was managed by Assembly Government officials who have no loyalty to any party or constituency."

But then goes on to negate everything he has just written by adding,

"The very urgent nature of the situation meant that it was impossible to follow a longer or more formal process, and that is widely accepted practice."

Huh? Did the interviews take place or not? How many people were interviewed? Why was it urgent? We know that Sargeant sat on this report for weeks before acting on or releasing it to the public. He had plenty of time to follow the correct procedures, but instead gets around due process by claiming it was "urgent" – which, incidentally, was exactly the same excuse which WAG used for not having advertised or followed a more formal process for David Bowles' appointment.

Anyway, just to round off his letter, the First Minister writes:

"The early signs of [the appointment of the Commissioner] are very promising, with both members and officers of the Council working well with the Commissioners to restore good governance. But the kind of negative personality politics that you use in your letter has contributed significantly to Anglesey's current problems and I cannot accept it being applied to our commissioners too".

So there you are: if you dare to raise any valid concerns about the suitability of our new Commissioners you get accused of "negative personality politics". Is this really the level of debate we want in this country?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Gravy Train arrives in Llangefni

I have been asked what I think of the choice of Commissioners now that they have all been named, so I will repeat the below letter I sent to the Daily Post earlier this week:
Ynys Môn residents were cheered to hear that WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant had finally decided to take firmer action to sort out the problems at Anglesey County Council. However now that all five Commissioners have been named it increasingly appears that this latest intervention is less about turning around our Council and more about providing jobs for a favoured few elite retirees: a retired fellow Labour politician from Carl Sargeant’s home of Flintshire, a retired assembly member, a retired chief constable, a retired NHS Trust chief executive, and a retired council chief. With the exception of the latter one wonders exactly what skills the rest have that are relevant to a Local Authority in trouble? Furthermore two of them seemingly stepped down from their previous positions for health reasons but now feel well enough to accept the £500 a day fees the Commissioner role entails. With the average weekly wage on Ynys Môn being around £396, they will earn more in one day that most residents do in over a week. The Anglesey Central Railway may not have yet reopened but it appears that the gravy train has arrived in Llangefni nonetheless.
I feel that this latest, deeper intervention could have been a golden opportunity to treat the political problems which have been festering at the Council for the last 15 and more years. However, WAG's choices of commissioner are completely wrong for the job at hand – indeed have even written to the First Minister to complain about the selection of this one in particular.

I have now been campaigning for political reform at the Council through this blog for some time and I just feel that through bad advice and hasty decisions Ynys Môn has been let down once again.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Peter Rogers and I, or One way to vote for Ynys Môn

Peter and I, yesterday.
I handed in my nomination papers for this May's Assembly elections last week and I'm both happy and proud to be able to say that Peter Rogers countersigned my nomination as a witness. Accordingly Peter will not be standing for election in May and will be backing my candidacy.

Peter has been a fearless and formidable voice for Ynys Môn for many years and a family friend for even longer. I am delighted by his support and proud to have his nomination going into this election. This means that the vote will no longer be split and is good news for Ynys Môn residents who want their vote to mean that they can see the back of Ieuan Wyn Jones.

As many of you will know, Peter Rogers sat in the First Assembly (1999-2003) as a regional Conservative AM for North Wales. He was also the Conservative constituency candidate for Ynys Môn in the Assembly election in 2003 and has always fought hard for the interests of Ynys Mon. He was also always Plaid Cymru's most feared competitor on Ynys Môn.

This is what Peter says in today's Daily Post:
"There are so many economic and social problems facing Anglesey. It is time for change and now there is a candidate who can beat Ieuan Wyn Jones. He is a Welsh speaker from the Island who has been a successful businessman and is now dedicated to helping Anglesey. I have not buried the hatchet with the Tories but this candidate has my personal backing"
What Does This Mean?

Below are the complete results of the last three Assembly elections.

The combined Peter Rogers and Conservative vote in 2007 comes to within 900 votes of Ieuan Wyn Jones' tally. According to the latest ITV Wales/YouGov poll, whereas the Conservative vote is consistent, Plaid Cymru is now polling 5 percentage points below where it was at the 2007 election (17% now compared to 22% in 2007) meaning that Ieuan Wyn Jones is unlikely to get more than 10,000 votes next month. If we consider that UKIP are not fielding a candidate and that they picked up over 800 votes in 2007, then the only conclusion is that Ieuan Wyn Jones is vulnerable.

Labour are currently riding high in the same polls (though the poll expert Mike Smithson disputes whether they are polling quite as high as YouGov report) but people vote differently in different elections, and for Labour to win they would need to more than double their 2007 vote.

If you want to see Ieuan Wyn Jones removed and a fresh start for Anglesey, our economy and Wales, then there is now only one credible way to vote.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Anglesey Recovery Board advised WAG against sending in Commissioners

It has transpired that the Anglesey Recovery Board advised WAG Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant AGAINST sending in the Commissioners, their final report reveals.

The Recovery Board last convened on January 31st, 2011, and made their own recommendations to Carl Sargeant on how to deal with the new instability at the Council following the failed attempt to force out Leader Clive McGregor at the beginning of January. Until this week WAG had refused to release this final report.

Here are some of the key passages:

"...the Council has made progress under intervention.  But overall ... a sustainable recovery is not reasonably foreseeable by August, at least.  There may be a better chance of this by May 2012; but in view of the speed at which power and loyalties shift within the council and the significant impact that can have, we cannot predict that with confidence."

On what they feel should be the appropriate response:

"We are equally clear that this situation demands some more stringent form of intervention.  This should not be a matter of punishing councillors but rather of ensuring that continued instability does not obstruct or detract from tackling the serious strategic, financial and delivery challenges facing the island.  In other words, any further action needs to address to the particular problems we have identified.  It also needs to encourage, rather than abandon, some of the positive progress and willingness that we have seen." 
"...we believe that, on balance, councillors should not be absolved of all decision-making responsibility.   That would be unfair on those who have shown genuine commitment to the recovery so far. " 
"...retaining some form of decision-making within the council would require councillors to develop and demonstrate a more mature approach to their responsibilities, which would in turn inform a future decision on ending the intervention."

However this is what the Recovery Board had to say about 'further direction', i.e. sending in commissioners:

"we detect a real risk that some councillors could exploit a further direction for their own political ends and thus enhance their chances of re-election in 2012 on a platform of resisting external control.  That sort of continued antagonism cannot be in the interests of the island and its citizens.   Further action needs to require councillors to change their ways; anything which encouraged them to portray themselves as victims or martyrs could be counter-productive."

This advice, of course, was ignored by Carl Sargeant who anyway decided to send in Commissioners.

So what form of 'more stringent' intervention did the Recovery Board recommend? Read on:

  • Reconstituting and renaming the Recovery Board as an Intervention Board, which would adopt a more directly challenging approach to the Council and its executive.

  • The Board should hold the council officers and executive to account on a number of clearly defined issues regularly and in public. Each of these issues to have specific measurable targets and time limits.
  • The Board should reserve the right  to call in some decisions and ask the executive to think again.  This should be limited to major concerns where we think there is undue delay or where an inappropriate decision is about to be made.
  • The Board should be supported by staff, external to the authority, who will identify issues for discussion and provide evidence to be used in reviewing and challenging decisions. There may be some financial provision in the Council’s own budget for training and  corporate renewal.
  • The Board should report publicly and regularly on its work, rather than just making its reports to the Minister available.  This might involve a web page or a column in the local press.
  • The Board and the Council (with the involvement of the Electoral Commission and the main political parties as appropriate) should develop a clear strategy and set of actions to support democratic renewal.
  • An end date should be agreed with David Bowles and the search for a new interim chief executive should begin now.  The power to appoint a chief executive should remain with the Minister, and consideration should be given to withdrawing the power also to appoint other statutory officers.  This would enhance the seriousness of the intervention.

  • Better and more dedicated support should be provided in council and committee meetings to ensure adherence to procedure and guarantee that all members are fairly heard.
  • A review of the concept of Energy Island should take place to determine the Council’s fitness to handle such a major project now and in the future.
  • If this approach does not succeed over a six month period the natural next stage would be the formal withdrawal of executive functions from the Council.

Considering that the members of the Recovery Board had been meeting with all parties over a period of 18 months it is undeniable that they were best placed to advise the Minister on the most appropriate action following January's instability. However Carl Sargeant decided to completely disregarded their recommendations. Why?

Read the whole report below:
31 Jan Recovery Board Report

Friday, 1 April 2011

Remembering Brynle

Brynle Williams
I was greatly saddened to hear this morning that Brynle Williams, the Conservative regional AM for North Wales and leader of the 2000 fuel protests, had passed away. As a farmer and pony breeder he was the Assembly's greatest advocate for Welsh farmers and a regular visitor to Ynys Môn.

I last spoke to him on the phone about a month ago when, despite being in his hospital bed, he immediately remembered having attended this meeting. He had sounded strong, said he was on the mend, and kindly promised to attend my campaign launch once a date had been decided.

Gruff, unpolished and full of genuine passion for his and our part of Wales, he couldn't have been more different from the new breed of career politicians who pass directly from University to political researcher posts and then into Westminster or the Assembly. He will be missed by many.

Gareth Jones AM appointed as Anglesey Commissioner

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones, the 71 year old retiring Plaid Cymru AM for Aberconwy and former Headmaster of Ysgol John Bright, has been appointed as the fourth Commissioner to Ynys Môn council.

I am sure that Mr Jones is extremely competent, but I question why every single Commissioner is a public sector retiree well past the peaks of their careers (indeed one of whom previously stepped down citing ill health)?

Surely if we are to make this latest intervention into Anglesey County Council a success a more diverse range of backgrounds and specialities is necessary? For example, one of the three Commissioners sent into failing Doncaster council was Julie Kenny, a business woman and entrepreneur. I would have thought that considering the problems at Anglesey County Council, a number of Commissioners with management consultancy and accountancy skills would be most appropriate.

Unfortunately the current intervention is beginning to look more and more like a gravy train rather than a serious attempt to send in the most suitable and best qualified people to turn around a failing council.

UPDATE: The fifth and final Commissioner will be Margaret Foster, former Chief Executive of Cwm Taf NHS Trust. She retired last year.