Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas



If you are sad enough to be reading a political blog over the festive season, may we wish you everything you wish yourself for the festive season and for 2007.


Being an inclusive party, we extend these greetings to those of other faiths and of none.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Is Resolven yet Another Neglected Valley Community?


I find it seriously hard to comprehend why the hole in the wall running alongside Clydach Brook, running through Resolven, is still left unattended. After almost a month of being knocked down, by a goods lorry, the gap in the flood defences on Commercial Road, Resolven remain unfixed!

If the excuse, as usual, is a lack of funding then we need to ask ourselves: Where is the extra £12.5m of European and local funding that was promised for flood defence work back in 2005? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/4612627.stm

This "Umbrella Project”, supposedly paid for by match funding from the Objective One development scheme highlighted Resolven as one of the communities that were supposed to benefit from extra flood defence.

Please, please, NPTCBC fix the hole in the wall at Commercial Road, Resolven, before the winter rain returns. Clydach Brook, as you well know, has a reputation of rising several feet, within minutes, without warning!

The Labour Councillor for Resolven, Des Davies, has recently attempted to reassure residents that the Local Authority is at least doing something by claiming to have delivered sandbags to the village. There's five sandbags piled up outside the Local Shop directly opposite the hole! Well that’s something, I suppose…………

- Richie Northcote

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shameless Plaid allow Labour to cut schools funding

Welsh Liberal Democrats slammed Labour and their Plaid Cymru helpers for cutting schools budgets, and leaving universities short of cash.

In a fiery debate at the National Assembly for Wales yesterday, AMs queued up to accuse the unlikely partners of selling out on education.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mike German said: "Let me make our position clear. Schools are going to suffer. Schools and universities will be the big losers.

"The party that promised us Education, Education, Education has borrowed an R from the Party of Wales and given us Reduction, Reduction, Reduction.

"By working together the opposition parties had been able to achieve significant improvements to the budget. Working alone, Plaid Cymru have secured an additional £300,000.

"Together we were looking for money equivalent to the salaries of 200 teachers. Plaid Cymru have caved in for 10 teachers. That's not good enough."

He highlighted successes achieved by the united opposition. This includes extra money for our
ambulance service, support for the rail link between Wrexham and London, extra cash for disabled play, some extra funding for universities, firefighters pensions and hospices.

Mr German added that Plaid would go into the 2007 Assembly elections as "Labour's little helpers".

Post Offices - where will the blows fall?

From House of Commons library documents, it appears that the government intends to close 25 post offices in the Neath constituency, and 15 in Aberavon.

We do not yet know how many of these will close immediately, nor which ones face the axe. We hope to update you as soon as we have the details.

What is clear is that New Labour will have outstripped the Tories in the number of post offices closed. For many villages and even towns this means the last meaningful contact with the fabric of national life has disappeared, or shortly will do so.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another significant by-election win

In a high-profile ward in the UK capital, Liberal Democrats have made another gain.

Last night Ralph Scott was elected as the new councillor for Kentish
Town in the London Borough of Camden, winning the seat from Labour.

Ralph Scott 1093
Green 812
Labour 808
Conservative 198

This represents a major victory for us - it is an endorsement of the LibDem leadership of the Council.

The Greens are deeply upset and disappointed - they thought this was their election and they threw everything into it. Labour took a not disimilar tactic but concentrated on throwing dirt. Yet again, David Cameron's pitch for liberal and green votes was a dismal failure.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Foot-and-mouth disease - no compensation in future?

The assembly government is having talks with farmers' representatives about the industry picking up all the bills for outbreaks of animal epidemic disease in future, reports the BBC.

This looks like just the latest in a line of populist moves by New Labour. In 2001 and 2004 there were moves in Westminster to compel farmers to take out insurance against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

"Labour MP for Newport West Paul Flynn said the government should not be 'picking up the bill for everything that goes wrong'."

All very reasonable - but what about the government playing its part? Farmers have no power to prevent suspect animal material coming into the UK. Only the government can do that, and the evidence is that it is not doing it very well. The Treasury's recent across-the-board cuts in manpower will not help.

And can one rely on this government to act decisively and at once in the event of a future outbreak? All livestock markets have to be cancelled and animal movements stopped immediately, the army being called in if necessary. This action was not taken in either of the last two FMD outbreaks.

Bryn Post Office vacancy

Yet another local post office is under threat because of difficulty in finding someone willing to take over when the current sub-postperson retires in the New Year. Residents will welcome their councillors publicising the search for a replacement.

However, it is too simplistic to say that "This is not the result of any commercial decision by the Post Office to cut the service", as the councillors do. They echo the words of Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, that the decline of the post office network is due to "changing patterns" of paying for services and drawing benefits.

The truth is that the government is actively discouraging pensioners and others from making use of the post office. As well as making it more difficult to draw benefits in cash, it has also reduced agency payments to sub-postpeople. The decision to withdraw the facility to pay for TV licences at post offices in favour of the Pay Point network (is there a Pay Point in Bryn, by the way?) is another blow.

It is little wonder that possible volunteers are deterred by the narrowing margins of post office business and worries over the future of the network as a whole. It takes a large dose of community spirit to encourage new sub-postmasters and mistresses at present.

Liberal Democrats would not only restore the facilities of the Post Office Card Account (due to expire shortly), but also restructure Post Office Services in a way which would give every postmaster and postmistress a personal financial share in the business.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Good AGM

Last Monday was a cheerful occasion for us, when we held our AGM against a background of a steady increase in membership.

The chairman took the opportunity to call into question, the county borough council for its controversial planning decisions in the last 12 months. He also welcomed a new secretary, Dave Howerski, who will be taking over from Richie Northcote who has moved on to fill the new post of Events Officer. This post has recently become essential following our recent increase in popularity and membership, we look forward to the events planned for the new year by Richie Northcote and wish Dave Howerski all the best in what is a demanding and challenging role.

BAGLAN ENERGY PARK - JOB APPEAL



In 1999, Alun Michael announced development on the Baglan industrial park site which promised to create 10,000 jobs.

This promise was repeated two years later when £3.8m was fed in from the EU Objective 1 scheme.

After that, the estimates were scaled down. There was vague talk of 6,000 jobs, then in 2004 one of Neath Port Talbot's councillors was quoted in one of the local media as saying "There are as many people working in the Baglan Energy Park now as BP used to employ". Gary Lewis, then our secretary, phoned a former BP employee to establish that, at its height, BP Baglan Bay employed around 2,300 people.

BP, when it closed down its facility for good, claimed no more than it had created 700 jobs within the Baglan travel-to-work area.

In the summer, we obtained from the WDA, under the Freedom of Information Act, the true figure for the number of people employed within the Energy Park. It was in fact 280. Even allowing for the 300 which Intertissue's plant is expected to employ when it is fully operational, that is less than 10% of the original estimates.

We welcome the numbers currently employed in the Energy Park. However, as the only TRUE opposition to Neath Port Talbot Labour dominated CBC, we would like to highlight the irresponsibility of those individuals who wildly overestimated the number of jobs which the Energy Park would create. We also wonder whether all the money spent on the industrial park has been "invested" with the correct focus.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pelenna - the forgotten valley?

The news that the Pontrhydyfen sub-postmaster has had to bring his retirement forward because of ill-health has left the whole valley with no post office facilities until the new sub postmaster in Tonmawr has been trained or a replacement found for Ponthrhydyfen. People wanting any post office services between now and the New Year will now have to travel to Neath or Port Talbot to do so. Those who draw their pensions in cash will be in some difficulty if they have not nominated an alternative post office which has remained open.

The situation could have been foreseen, yet Post Office Services had no contingency plans in place.

Add to this the probability that the temporary GP surgery facilities in Tonmawr will be withdrawn because they cannot be connected to broadband internet (whatever happened to the initiiative to bring broadband to the whole of Wales?), and you have a picture of New Labour taking people outside the towns and cities for granted.

- Frank Little

Friday, November 17, 2006

Another Conservative politician sees through Cameron

Last May, Liberal Democrats lost the Leatherhead North (Surrey) council
seat to the Tories last May by just three votes, after several recounts.
Amazingly, the Tory victor, Penny Hedgeland, has just defected to us!

The Leatherhead Advertiser quotes her as saying:

"I joined the Conservative Party when David Cameron was elected leader.

"I thought he was steering his party away from the past and towards more
caring and inclusive policies - including a green agenda.

"But having now spent several months as a Conservative councillor I am
disillusioned because I see little of this progressive attitude here in
Mole Valley.

"Similarly Mr Cameron does not seem to be following up his rather vague
aspirations with any solid policies.

"In the meantime the Liberal Democrats nationally have produced a
detailed and practical policy on switching tax burden from income
towards pollution which greatly appeals to me."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How green is our MP?

When Rough Guides published its new book on Climate Change, the series editor, Mark Ellingham, decided to send a copy to every MP. With it, he sent a letter asking three simple questions...

1 How important a concern is climate change?

2 What can Britain do to make a difference?

3 What steps do you plan to take (or have you taken), in your constituency, and as an individual?

The Independent newspaper today published the responses.

" MPs are not renowned for responding to surveys, yet nearly half the house - ­ 318 of our elected representatives - ­ felt strongly enough to break the habit," reported the Indy, " all the main party leaders among them."

All the Liberal Democrat MPs in Wales (as you would expect), responded. So did that very busy man, the prime minister.

Yet our local MPs, Dr Hywel Francis and Mr Peter Hain are notable for their absence. What went wrong?

- Frank Little

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Freedom of speech - hard cases make bad law

In the wake of the recent acquittal of leaders of the racist British National Party on charges of using language inciting racial hatred, the government is reported to be looking at strengthening the law in this area.

We already have too much law curtailing our freedom of speech. The government should just accept that Griffin and his acolytes benefited from a perverse verdict, and move on. Short of abolishing jury trials for race hate crime - and think of how many "martyrs" that is going to create! - it is hard to see what more could or should be done.

There are suggestions that the Leeds jury was unduly influenced by external matters - for instance, being shown (unbroadcast) TV documentaries about violent Muslim gangs, "proving" that what Griffin said about Islam was fair comment. The government itself is not innocent. Ruth Kelly, John Reid and now its head of counter-intelligence have all made speeches associating Islam with violence.

The great fear is that more draconian law is not going to be used only against people who stir up hatred against religious or racial groups, but also those who object openly against government policy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Yet Another Surprise By-Election Victory

Lib Dem Irfan Mustafa storms from 4th place to take Clements Wood ward (Ilford) in the London borough of Redbridge from Labour.

November 9th 2006

Redbridge LBC, Clements Wood
LD Irfan Mustafa 904 (41.9; +30.3), Lab 715 (33.1; -20.6), Con 377 (17.5; -0.5), Ind 65 (3.0; +3.0), Green 49 (2.3; -2.6), British Public Party 48 (2.2; -9.7).
Majority 189. Turnout 25.1%. LD gain from Lab. Last fought 2006.

Farmers market


We believe in localism, so we support the Ystalyfera-based Good Food Co-operative which has been mounting farmers markets in the borough. The picture above is from the well-attended one in Cwmgwrach's Welfare Hall yesterday.

The food was of high-quality and well presented, with organic produce well to the fore. It was good to talk to the people who actually sourced the food. However, the prices put it out of the reach of many, except perhaps as an occasional treat. We would like to see more local farmers taking advantage of the concept and, as in other parts of England and Wales, providing more everyday fare. By cutting out the middleman, they would gain more realistic returns while providing wholesome food at a reasonable price.

The next Good Food Co-operative market will be at Godre'rgraig Workingmen's Club on 22nd November, and they return to Cwmgwrach on 14th December.

- Frank Little

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Labour's money pledge for unions

Labour's first policy pledge for the Welsh assembly election, a commitment of funds to trade unions is on the face of it a sweetener for their paymasters. Although New Labour in London is trying to distance itself from the trade unions, affiliated unions still have a third share in electing the party leader. The traditional relationship tends to persist in Wales, too.

However, not all the unions in the TUC are affiliated to the Labour Party, and Labour's election campaigns are increasingly reliant on businessmen for finance. We should also distinguish between the funds proposed for "restructuring", about which Labour certainly has questions to answer, and those for education.

Not enough credit has been given to unions in the past for their efforts on the social and educational front. They have been very effective in delivering education, and it is surely right that a future Welsh government should take advantage of efficient means of delivery of education and training, whether it is provided by the TUC, the CBI, charities or the conventional structures.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Post Offices not safe in Labour hands


Gwenda Thomas's response to the campaign backing sub-postmasters, led by Liberal Democrats Lembit Öpik and Mick Bates and locally by Peter Black and Sheila Waye (pictured here at Gwaun Cae Gurwen post office), is to remind people of the rate relief available to rural small businesses.

This is useful, so far as it goes, but it cannot make up for the loss of business relating to TV and vehicle licensing, and to the scheduled withdrawal of the Card Account in 2010.

Much more to the point would be reanimating the Post Office Development Fund set up by the LibDem/Labour partnership assembly government in 2002. This Labour has resolutely refused to do.

Let us be clear: we are not defending the Post Office Card Account (POCA) just for the sake of opposition, or just for the sake of keeping local post offices open. The POCA is the only kind of banking facility which is available to some people - and Gordon Brown's tax credit system insists on paying child & working tax credits into a bank account. There is no cash option.

POCA was also the sweetener offered to old age pensioners in return for giving up their pension books.

Tata takeover not necessarily bad news for Port Talbot



It has just been reported that the board of Corus has accepted a takeover bid from Tata of India.

Tata Industries is a long-established conglomerate, founded in 1868 by a member of a Parsee family. It became rich on the basis of textile manufacture, but has since branched out into many industrial areas, from steel to motors and IT.

Indians are the third largest external investors (after Japanese and Americans) in UK business, and have a rather better record of maintaining facilities - especially research - here than some other nationals. If control of Corus has to leave Europe, India is probably a safer destination from the point of view of Welsh job security than Russia or even the United States.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dark skies



The wholesale renewal of Neath Port Talbot's old street lights gives opportunity not only to make sure that the most energy-efficient equipment is installed, but also that light pollution should be reduced.

As anyone who has spent a night in mid-Wales will attest, there is nothing so magnificent as the sight of a deep velvet sky studded all over with stars, undimmed by the glow from street lights.

We wouldn't go as far as Iceland did at the end of September. According to Reuter "Authorities in the capital Reykjavik will turn off street lights on Thursday evening and people are also being encouraged to sit in their houses in the dark", writer Andri Snaer Magnason said on Wednesday, "while the lights are out, an astronomer will describe the night sky over national radio."

Sadly, the Icelandic experiment failed because of cloud cover on the night.

- Frank Little

Friday, September 29, 2006

Neath Port Talbot street lighting



It is reported that the street lights are in a dreadful state and need a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to restore them. One hopes that the opportunity is taken to remove the unsightly remains of the previously upgraded street lights (picture).

It seems that, once again, because of government rules regarding large capital expenditure, a public-private partnership is "the only game in town" for the county borough.

This party has often criticised PPPs and PFIs (Public Finance Initiatives) as they are applied to schools, hospitals and similar institutions. However, unlike a school or hospital building, user demands from a streetlight are relatively simple and unchanging - that it works, it stays upright, it looks OK - so the relative inflexibility of PFI is less of a problem. There is also less scope for the private partner to load unforeseen charges on the back end.

Liberal Democrat councils like Islington, Cambridge and Redcar & Cleveland have therefore instituted, or are about to institute, PPPs for street lighting with only a few misgivings.

One of these is, that if the PFI partner fails to deliver, the local authority is over a barrel and in a weak position to allow enforcement action to take any time (especially in the winter). If it decides to guarantee a remedy, (eg demanding a bond), it is likely to increase the price demanded by the partner. The cost benefit analysis must also include realistic provision for the Council's legal services.

So, clearly, the choice of partner is crucial (the provider of the Crymlyn incinerator is an instructive example) and there must be safeguards in place.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Female prison for Wales - second thoughts

On 13th August (see archives), we started a campaign for women from South Wales, committed to gaol, to be housed nearer their home towns. Our thought was that it would aid rehabilitation and also be less hard on their families.

However, campaigners for women have since pointed out that the existence of a local prison is more likely to encourage magistrates and judges to sentence women to prison, where they now impose non-custodial sentences.

This is against a background that in England and Wales:
  • In the last decade the women’s prison population has more than doubled.
  • Over one third of women in adult prisons had no previous convictions, which is more than double the figure for men
  • The majority of the sentenced female prison population are held for non-violent offences.
  • Much of the rise in the female prison population can be explained by a significant increase in the severity of sentences. In 1991 eight per cent of women convicted in the Crown Court of motoring offences went to prison. By 2001 that had increased to 42 per cent. A women convicted of theft or handling at the Crown Court is now twice as likely to go to prison as in 1991. At the magistrates’ court, the chances of a women receiving a custodial sentence have risen seven-fold.
(Source http://www.inside-out.org.uk/news/news_201205BLF.htm)

Cilfrew and Trebanos planning decisions

We understand that the controversial matter of blasting at Trebanos has now been referred up to the Department of Trade and Industry.

However, the planning committee held last week did approve the construction of plant to service the gas pipeline within the community of Cilfrew, in spite of the opposition of John Warman (Liberal Democrat, Cimla).

The Neath Guardian reports that some councillors were advised by council's monitoring officers not to vote. This is likely to form the basis of an application for judicial review, which Cilfrew residents are investigating.

If Britain is to avoid dependence on Russia's Gazprom for its gas supplies in future, then the pipe from Milford Haven is essential. Transfer stations are needed at intervals to distribute the gas into local networks.

However, Cilfrew's case, backed up by engineering advice, is that there are other suitable sites for a gas transfer station in the area which are less of a potential danger to residents, and do not create traffic hazards.

- Frank Little

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Labour minister endorses LibDem councils

In her opening speech to the Labour conference in Manchester, local MP and minister without portfolio at the Cabinet Office, Hazel Blears said:

"Look around the great cities of Britain, go to Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Cardiff or Newcastle, and you can see a new confidence, a new Renaissance.

"The British entrepreneurial spirit flourishing against a backdrop of economic stability and renewed public services."

I am sure that Rodney Berman, Liberal Democrat leader of Cardiff City Council, would welcome that endorsement, as will the Liberal Democrats of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who increased their majority at the local elections in May this year.

And while Leeds may not be in Liberal Democrat hands, if you approach the city from the south-west, you will pass through the second-greenest council in England, Kirklees. The green initiative was taken by the former Liberal Democrat-led administration.

Media - the good guys


We try not to be totally negative in our comments, so as a counter-balance to the previous posting, here are some names of journalists who have given the conference serious coverage.

Serious, but not earnest, a thought which naturally leads to the name of Michael White (pictured) of the Guardian. His public interview of Ming Campbell at the conference was a model of what these things should be: probing, not hectoring; and conducted with humour, but not maliciously so. Trivia there was, but it formed only a small part of the interview.

White's sympathies are clearly with Labour. He is an Atlanticist, rather than a European, and he also disagrees with us over proportional representation, but he is a fair reporter of the old school.

Another good old-fashioned journalist is Patrick Hannan. His style on Radio Wales' "Something else" and "Call to Order" is also to probe with humour.

More acerbic is Andrew Rawnsley, who nevertheless was fair in chairing a lively Brighton fringe debate on the Liberal Democrats and the media. It is hard to discern where Rawnsley's sympathies lie, but the impression that he is particularly tough when interviewing prominent LibDems, suggests that he might be a closet party follower.

A usually quite partisan Labour supporter is Steve Richards of The Independent. However, in his column of 21st September, he discussed dispassionately Liberal Democrat tax policies and their implications for cooperation with other parties in the event of a balanced parliament.

"Anyone who listened to the [tax debate] would recognise this is a left-of-centre party, gripped by the need to redistribute widely, and to raise cash for some expensive spending commitments, such as the abolition of top-up fees for students," Richards wrote.

"Those speaking in favour of the new economic package argued passionately that the proposals redistributed more extensively than the party's previous policies. Opponents of the proposals protested that there was a need to redistribute more widely still."

Richards added: "It was a good debate, and one the two bigger parties would be too scared to stage."

Finally, David Hencke, the Westminster correspondent of the Guardian, cuts through the superficial assessments of the party and our leader.

Of the Liberal Democrats, he writes (in "The House Magazine"): "They have lost support in the [opinion] polls, but not in elections. Since Menzies' leadership, they have taken a seat from Labour in Dunfermline and came within 600 votes of taking Bromley & Chislehurst from the Tories. Neither of these results - particularly the slump in Tory support in outer London - were picked up in the Westminster village. And council by-elections show a similar trend."

And on Ming Campbell: "His detractors cite his age, his laid-back approach, and fear that when it comes to the next general election, he will perform badly in comparison with the dynamic young David Cameron and the experienced and streetwise Gordon Brown. His supporters think his gravitas, his diplomatic ability to heal breaches between warring factions, his principled stand over the war in Iraq, and defence of individual civil liberties, will chime with the electorate."

What these writers have in common is the perception that elections are not just a horse-race, but are about people and policies, and that few men and women go into politics as knaves and liars.

- Frank Little

Friday, September 22, 2006

Demise of TV political journalism


The one thing that spoiled the view from the conference hotel in Brighton this week was the burnt-out shell of a pier. I did think of using a picture of this as a symbol of what has happened to the once-glitzy Conservative campaign, but I see that the Tories have now done this for themselves with a replacement of their once-proud blue dragon with a squiggle.

Perhaps it is more representative of what has happened to political reportage on national TV, on BBC in particular. (I am sure that HTV did their usual sound job, but, sadly, I didn't have the equipment in Brighton to check on the media back home.) Nick Robinson's idea of deep analysis at the conference was to tote a life-size cut-out of Menzies Campbell along the sea-front and to ask holiday-makers some facile questions.

On the late-night news programmes, there was a vague attempt to build up Charles Kennedy as a threat to Menzies Campbell's leadership. Not only was this scuppered by CK's competent, but uninspiring speech, but also by his own clearly sincere statement of gratitude and loyalty to Ming.

TV ignored the rousing speeches by Nick Clegg (crime and civil liberties), Chris Huhne (environment) and Ed Davey (renewable energy). The very ubiquity of these three could even have given the media a better story than the one they went with: fresh challengers for the leadership. More seriously, the media did a disservice to the British public by not presenting the very distinct agenda which our main speakers laid out.

- Frank Little

Liberal Democrats are green, and in government



We have long suspected the Green Party of being little Englanders. A few years back, their official policy was to quit the European Union. They now realise that the best way of changing the EU's protectionist policies is to fight from the inside, but their attitude to the rest of Europe is still rather equivocal.

The confirmation came this morning, on Radio Wales, when the Green Party Wales Campaign Coordinator (or some such title) stated as fact that our party is not only not really green, but where it has any power, it puts anti-green measures into effect.

We suggest to her that she looks at the largest (in area) nation of the United Kingdom, ruled from Edinburgh since 1999 by a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats.(The photo shows Willie Rennie MP for Dunfermline having a diagnostic check at the LibDem conference.) Nicol Stephen, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and deputy First Minister, holds the key portfolio of Enterprise.

Liberal Democrats led the way in Scotland in improving their resource management through the National Waste Strategy based on the three Rs - Reduce - Re-use - Recycle and by setting a Recycling Target of 55% for 2020.

They are well on the way to meeting the first stage of that target by reaching a level of 25% this year which will put Scotland ahead of England and Wales.

Scottish Liberal Democrats also led the way on Renewable Energy by setting a Target of 40% by 2020. This was double the target of 20% set by the UK Government for the same period. Nicol Stephen confirmed in Brighton last Monday that, while Labour in Westminster is behind its target, the Scots are ahead of theirs.

(PS - I have just learned that Green councillors in York have voted against eco-housing and a flagship world class sustainable recycling centre and in favour of higher ticket prices on park and ride. What was that about power and anti-green policies again?)

- Frank Little

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberal Democrat Conference Diary - Day 2



Well since it's Conference Season, here is the first entry in the Conference Diary. I don't know why, but the diary has begun on day two. There will be one small video released each day of the Conference at Brighton.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Liberal Democrats – The Real Alternative to Labour in Neath Port Talbot County Borough.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats prove that we are the Real Opposition to Labour within the Borough. While the rest of the opposition groups remain silent, on many important issues, the Liberal Democrats are actively campaigning all year round, not just at election time, calling the Labour Administration to account.

Baglan Energy Park


Press Reports 2003: Baglan Energy Park to Employ 6,000!
True Figures 2006: Baglan Energy Park Employs just 379!


I’m sure that I’m not the only person who thought the estimation of 6,000 Jobs that would be created by the Baglan Energy Park was optimistic.

Quite interestingly, former Council Leader Noel Crowley passes comment some 18 months (19th March 2003) previously in the Evening Post that “There are as many people working in the Baglan Energy Park now as BP used to employ...”

After some investigation and asking ex-employees of BP Baglan Bay how many used to work at the site, the answer came back at around 2,300 at its height.

So, how many people are employed by the Baglan Energy Park?

Following a request for information, under the Freedom of Information Act, back in February 2005 from the WDA the true figures for the number of people employed within the Energy Park, back then, was 280. More recent figures provided by the WDA/ WAG put the numbers of people employed in the Energy Park at 379 people.

Basically the increase in numbers of people employed in the energy park has been some 99 in the past eighteen months. Another way of looking at it would be 66 per year.

At this rate it will be September 2035 before the Energy Park employs as many people as BP Baglan did at its height, and, it will be September 2091 before it employs the 6,000 that the Press originally published in 2003! We believe that the potential of the Energy Park is enormous and we urge NPTCBC to be more proactive in publicising the merits of the park to the business community.

- Gary Lewis

Nick Clegg discusses his first six months as Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary

Nick Clegg discusses his first six months as Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary discussing the failures of Labour and successes of the Liberal Democrats in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Policy Discussion at Tonmawr Community Centre Monday 25 September 7:30pm

Come to Tonmawr Community Centre on Monday, 25th September at 7.30 p.m. to meet and question Liberal Democrat candidates for next year’s Assembly elections. Also hear about Liberal Democrat tax proposals, and other policy matters being discussed and agreed upon at our conference in the coming week.

Ask about any other Liberal Democrat policies.

Most importantly: tell us what we can do for you.

From the inception of Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats, we have made a point of holding our monthly meetings in different parts of the County Borough. As interest in the Liberal Democrats, and disaffection with New Labour, have grown, we have been invited to many more local community centres away from the main towns of Neath Port Talbot county borough.

This month, we are grateful to new members Des and Annette Sparkes for the chance to visit Tonmawr and learn first hand of the concerns of the people of Pelenna ward.

I guarantee that at least one of your candidates for next year’s assembly elections will be on hand.

- Frank Little

Clare Short delivers yet another Blow to the Government


It would seem that the Knives are out for Clare Short at Westminster. Her attack on the Government this week in a letter she sent to the Independent has ruffled Labours feathers to a degree where they are considering disciplinary action against the former Cabinet Minister. More discerning for them is her intention to resign at the next election and campaign for a Hung Parliament.

I never thought I would ever say this, but I find myself in agreement with Claire Shorts comments. It is what we, as Liberal Democrats, have been banging on about for years – Electoral Reform is long overdue.

Below is an extract from her letter, judge for yourself:

"Cabinet government has gone, the House of Commons - with guillotines on all business - is weak and ineffective, and the rise of the third party means our electoral system is ever-more distorted. The vote in 2005 of 9.54 million was the second-lowest Labour vote in post-war Britain. With the support of only 22 per cent of the electorate, we see power more concentrated in a No 10 that consults no one, engages in deceit over matters of profound importance and is not held to account by Cabinet, parliamentary party or the wider party. The Prime Minister’s powers of patronage turn too many MPs into obedient ciphers who await the call to ministerial office or quiet elders who await the House of Lords."

"The Labour Party has lost its way, our constitutional arrangements are broken and the gap between the political elite and the country grows ever wider. At the same time, Britain has become more unequal, violent and unhappy. And the world is in desperate trouble."


"My conclusion is that the key to the change we need is a hung parliament which will bring in electoral reform."

If you agree or disagree with Clare Shorts comments then you can enter the debate at The Taking Power Forum.

- Richie Northcote

Friday, September 15, 2006

Vehicle Child Restraint - New Law


The new law regarding regulations governing the use of child car seats will come into force on Monday 18 September 2006 with many people still completely unaware of this change. There has been a clear lack of publicity on this matter so for clarity sake the new law can be found at:

http://www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk
[Superseded link http://www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk/campaigns/childcarseats/childcarseats.htm replaced 2011-10-11 - FHL]

The main reason for this change is clearly illustrated as:

"When a vehicle is involved in a crash it comes to an abrupt halt. If not restrained, occupants will have their own crash into the vehicle structure. Restraint systems are therefore designed to help keep people away from the vehicle structure and to distribute the forces of a crash over the strongest parts of the human body, with minimum damage to the soft tissues."

"Adults are restrained by a three point seat belt. This is designed for adults and not for children. Children are not small adults. They are proportioned differently and their key organs are in different places. Their tissues have different strengths and weaknesses and their needs change as they grow. Therefore they need a child restraint system to cope with the different stages of their development."

However, what strikes me as bizarre is that families have to ensure that these extra child restraints are fitted to the family vehicle (which on average, is normally driven carefully and to the speed limit) and Taxi-Cabs (which on average, try to get you to your destination as fast as they can so that they can race to their next fare) are exempt from this legislation! Where is the sense in that? Perhaps somebody can explain this to me because no matter how hard I try, I just cannot comprehend the reason for such an exemption.

- Richie Northcote

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ask a policeman electronically

If you click on the link below, you will get through to the South Wales Police
Authority / How to contact the Authority.

http://www.south-wales.police.uk

Towards the bottom of this page is an email link to email the constabulary.

All members who have sent an email to this address have had it bounced. We would be glad to hear from any readers of this who have successfully communicated with the South Wales Police via email. (There are no prizes!)

Fun and politics in the sun


It was meant mainly as a social occasion, but politics did intrude on the barbecue at Sheila Waye's place last month.
Returning Officer Paul Meara took the opportunity to dot the i's and cross the t's of Sheila's adoption as candidate for Neath in next year's assembly elections. (See the complete slate at www.southwaleslibdems.org.uk)
Of course, a speech was called for and the photo shows Sheila waxing passionate about her aim of restoring quality to public services in Wales, especially the NHS.
But the abiding memory was of good food, drink and chat on a beautiful late summer day.
- Frank Little

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Running commentary from the Westminster stadium



"Well, Mark, it looks as if New Labour are about to make a substitution."

"Yes, John, they had to do something. Blair has got to be the man to come off. He is on his own up there and not getting any support from his team. Mind you, he doesn't help himself by holding on to the ball and following his own devices."

"Do you think that's the result of what people are saying is the undue influence of his personal manager, Bush?"

"That could be. It's certain as can be that he's lost the trust of his team, and now the crowd are getting on his back. They're calling for their favourite, Brown, to come on."

"But he's a traditional sort of left-winger, isn't he?"

"He used to be thought of in that role, yes, but he is not as strongly left-sided as you would think. It will be a straight swap up front, with exactly the same game plan."

"Mark, what are the implications for the Wales and Scotland matches?"

"Well, they must stand a better chance with a settled formation, but unless they change their strategy ..."

"Sorry, Mark, must interrupt you there, something amazing's happening on the bench. They've got the numbers ready, but they're not holding them up. Blair is definitely coming off, but when? It beats me, are they going to leave it too late, I wonder?"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Stephen Robert "Steve" Irwin (February 22, 1962 – September 4, 2006)


The world today mourns the loss of a true naturalist. Love him or loathe him, this man brought the wilderness to life and captivated his audience in a way that none before him were ever able to. He managed to reinvigorate interest in the natural environment, and, had a remarkable charisma the world will sorely miss. Many disagreed with his methods, but personally, I believe that the work and efforts of Steve Irwin will be remembered for decades to come, not least for his true belief in the conservation of the natural environment.

- Richie Northcote

Inconsistencies in magistrates' sentences

I’m sure that regular readers of the Neath Port Talbot Guardian couldn’t help but see the front page headlines “I Won’t Pay” in the 31st of August edition of the paper.


It would appear that a Cwmavon man has been fined a hefty £320 for dropping a cashpoint receipt. The article then goes on to say about other cases where people have faced hefty fines for littering, £275 for dropping a cigarette butt at the Tesco Store in Neath Abbey, £260 for dropping a wrapper in McDonalds in Afan Way.


The Guardian then goes on to break down the costs of the fine imposed on the man from Cwmavon: The actual fine was £100, costs were £220!!!


Cashpoint Man stated in the article: “When it happened I wasn’t aware that I had dropped anything... I was followed by two council officials who came onto me to say I had dropped a bit of paper. I had been to the cash point because I was doing my shopping. My cash point receipt must have fallen outside my wallet.”


It would appear that from the article the costs were for the time spent in NPTCBC perusing the case. Commenting in the article, Council’s Assistant Solicitor Mr Michael Shaw said: “The costs are calculated very simply on the basis of officer’s time and a contribution to prosecution costs…The magistrates are given a schedule of costs before hand and it is up to them what they want to impose; but the costs submitted are the costs to the authority.”


So, it is up to the Magistrates if they wish to allow such costs!!!!!


With such generous costs being awarded to the council, perhaps they could afford to empty the dog bins in the county more often; the dog bin in the George Memorial Park, towards the entrance to St. Theodore Road has been overflowing this week!



Additionally, in the article, comparisons were drawn with an assault case where the fine was £75 with £50 costs. There is quite an inconsistency here, where someone who drops a receipt gets fined £100 with £220 cost while someone who assaults someone gets fined a lesser amount (£75) and lesser costs (£50).


Such inconsistencies in sentencing aren’t that uncommon. A Guardian article from 22nd April 2004, “Victims lose out after theft of holiday funds”, describes how someone (with no previous convictions) cheated her eleven friends of just over £1,000 and received a custodial sentence of three months. Another Guardian article from 18th March 2004 reports that a Social Worker, who stole just over £7,000, received a twelve month sentence suspended for two years. The victim, a 92-year-old woman, was a client of the social worker.


The Social Worker stole an amount which was seven times the amount the person who stole from her friends, stole from someone who was her client (she was in a position of trust, and that trust was broken) and the person the social worker stole from was a vulnerable adult. Surely, a custodial sentence was more appropriate in the case of the Social Worker rather than the woman who stole from her eleven friends?

Gary Lewis



Saturday, September 02, 2006

WELL DONE JOHN WARMAN


The South Wales Evening Post has reported this week that Liberal Democrat Councillor for Cimla, John Warman has been plodding the streets collecting signatures for a petition against the relocation of the Neurosurgery Department to Cardiff.

Friday, September 01, 2006

By-Election Watch August 2006


The Liberal Democrats gained 5 seats, held 1 and lost 1
The Labour Party held 1 seat
The Conservative Party gained 1 seat, held 5 and lost 1
Independent Candidates held 1 seat and lost 3
Plaid Cymru lost 1 seat

The clear victors in August’s by-elections, once again, were the Liberal Democrats by gaining 5 seats, holding 1 and losing 1. (+4 seats)
See the full results below:

By-Election Results: Thursday 31st August 2006

Chepstow TC, Thornwell
Lab 176 (50.0), Con 112 (31.8), LD Henry Ashby 64 (18.2).
Majority 64. Turnout 19%. Lab hold

East Staffordshire BC, Town
Con 664 (64.9; +24.1), Lab 255 (24.9; +3.3), UKIP 104 (10.2; +10.2),
[Ind (0.0; -37.7)].
Majority 409. Turnout 20.9%. Con hold

Llanbadarn Fawr WCC, Sulien
LD Bob Morris 192 (90.6), Con 20 (9.4).
Majority 172. Turnout 15.2%. LD gain from PC

Tonbridge and Malling BC, Ightham
Con 352 (53.9; -20.6), LD Rebecca Hunt 301 (46.1; +20.6).
Majority 51. Turnout 42.5%. Con hold

Uttoxeter PC, Town
Con 588 (58.1), Lab 247 (24.4), UKIP 102 (10.1), LD 75 (7.4).
Majority 341. Turnout 20.7%. Con hold

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
By – Election Results: Thursday 24th August 2006

Elmbridge BC, Walton Central
Ind 656 (50.0 –2.7)
Con 482 (36.7 +5.1)
LD 115 (8.8 –0.1)
Lab 59 (4.5 –2.2)
Majority 174. Turnout 28.8. Ind hold

Harrow LBC, Harrow Weald
LD P Scott 1288 (46.9 +12.0)
Con 1088 (39.6 –6.1)
Lab 295 (10.7 –8.7)
Green 74 (2.7 +2.7)
Majority 200. Turnout 33.5 LD gain Con

Stratford upon Avon DC, Alcester
Con 798 (53.5 +22.4)
LD Karyl Rees 638 (42.8 –13.9)
Lab 54 (3.6 –2.0)
UKIP [0.0 –6.6].
Majority 160. Turnout 31.82. Con gain LD

Southsea TC, Craneswater
Con 470 (55.3)
LD R Inkpen 379 (44.6)
Majority 91. Turnout 21.37. Con hold

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By-Election Results: Thursday 17th August 2006

Lewes DC, Ouse Valley and Ringmer
LD Peter Gardiner 715 (43.7; +21.6), Con 521 (31.8; +6.5), Seagulls 359
(21.9; +21.9), Lab 41 (2.5; -10.7) [Green (0.0; -7.0)] [Ind (0.0; -32.4)].
Majority 194. Turnout 33.4%. LD gain from Ind

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By-Election Results: Thursday 10th August 2006

Caradon DC, St Cleer and St Neot
LD Bob Emuss 519 (58.8; +23.3), Con 363 (41.2; +16.0), [Ind (0.0; -
39.3)].
Majority 156. Turnout 24.6%. LD hold

Enfield LBC, Turkey Street
Con 877 (40.1; -0.2), Lab 874 (40.0; +11.3), UKIP 174 (8.0; +8.0), Save
Chase Farm 133 (6.1; +6.1), LD David Peters 77 (3.5; +3.5), Green 51
(2.3; +2.3), [Ind (0.0; -30.0)].
Majority 3. Turnout 24.7%. Con hold

Highland Council UA, Lochardil
LD David Henderson 514 (43.9; +43.9), Ind 263 (22.4; -32.4), SNP 212
(18.1; +18.1), Lab 108 (9.2; -7.0), Con 49 (4.2; +4.2), Ind 26 (2.2; -52.6).
Majority 251. Turnout 53.9%. LD gain from Ind

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By – Election Result: Thursday 3rd August 2006

Eden DC, Orton with Tebay
LD M Wilcox 165 (50.5 +3.1)
Con 162 (49.5 +49.5)
Ind [0.0 –52.6]
Majority 3. Turnout 29.8. LD gain Ind

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tough on the Causes of Crime?


The vandalism of the young childrens play area in Resolven, this week, is obviously unacceptable. Especially when it results in depriving the younger children from enjoying these facilities. As a parent bringing up two young children in Resolven, I find this news discerning to say the least. However, I also find the comments of Resolven Community Council Chairman equally discerning.

By declaring that,
It makes you feel that it is not worth trying to do anything for young people
simply puts the attitude of the Community Council into context. To stereotype ALL young people in this manner is not going to help the situation – indeed, it will only make matters worse.

We must not give up on the younger generations of society. They are, after all, our future. In order to address these problems we must look at causality and certainly not administer collective punishment. Those that choose to abuse these facilities, provided by the council, should be punished and punished hard - but in the court. Unfortunately, since police resources are already overstretched, prosecuting these troublemakers is unlikely. A fitting punishment, if caught, would be a community order to clean up the mess and destruction that they have caused.

There is a depth of feeling with our younger generation at present. Sometimes it requires a degree of empathy in understanding causality in these circumstances. Put yourself in the shoes of a 16-20 year old growing up in Resolven and then ask yourself the following questions…….

1. What am I going to do for a job? There’s very little job opportunity in Resolven!

2. What am I going to do in my spare time? There’s nowhere to go, for people of my age, in Resolven……I suppose there’s always the pub!

3. Where am I going to Live? There’s no chance of getting a mortgage………Tens of thousands of pounds outside my price range! Can’t even afford to rent property!

The answers to the questions above are actual responses from 16 – 20 year old youths that I have spoken to in Resolven.

If the Community Council would simply engage with the younger generation, rather than criticise from afar, then they would understand these concerns and begin to address some of them. I do not intend to condone what has happened at the Resolven play area, but we do need to address the root cause of the problem rather than condemn the problem itself. The cause of the problem can be summed up in one sentence:

Social deprivation coupled with low self-esteem, caused by a lack of prospects and hope.

A promise to tackle this issue was one of the main reasons why the Labour Government is in power today. Remember the world famous quote,
Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime!
almost a distant memory now. The stark reality is that the Valley Communities have been utterly neglected by the Government. The people of Blaenau Gwent realised this soon enough and dealt the Government a bloody nose at the recent by-elections.

How long before the rest of the valley communities follow suit?

- Richie Northcote

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hope for community councils

At the beginning of August, we commented on the boundary dispute between Blaenhonddan and Dyffryn Clydach community councils. The main item of contention was ease of access to council facilities.

A paper for consideration at the LibDem federal conference in Brighton points the way to a possible answer. One of its proposals is for greater collaboration between councils and for sharing of facilities.

As drafted, the proposals relate only to England, but surely this is something the Welsh party will take on board?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bulgar Off! Says Evening Post Editor

Last weekend, Evening Post editor Spencer Feeney published a provocative leader calling for restrictions on people from the enlarged European Union.

He called for a debate on the subject, but has so far not published any letters on the subject. Well, this was my contribution and I am not holding my breath any longer:

Dear Sir

I am quite happy to talk about the movement of labour across Europe, but can we dispose of one thing first? The financial pressure on towns like Llanelli and Slough is caused only indirectly by immigration. The primary cause is the government's failure to respond to increases in population,as indicated by National Insurance contributions, when making council tax equalisation payments. Instead, it relies on census data which can be as much as ten years out of date.

The pressures would be the same if the new workers came from England, Scotland or other parts of Wales.

People coming to Britain from Eastern Europe to work is nothing new. Poles and Ukrainians augmented the workforce in South Wales, as well as other parts of Britain, as we strove to rebuild after the war. There was even a Ukrainian club in Morriston until the late 1960s.

There is clearly a need for new people. I am told that the Crymlyn recycling plant would have to close if it were not for the Lithuanians who are working there. One presumes that there are vacancies in Llanelli which would be unfilled if it were not for people coming from other parts of Europe.

We have benefited from the EU's concept of freedom of labour. Everybody knows about the brickies of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet", who made money out of the construction boom in Germany. Not so well known is the commuting of Welsh men and women to work in the hospitality industries in Ireland, or the IT people from the UK who work in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

We can't have it both ways.

In any case, it is probable that the economies of the ex-Iron Curtain countries will take off as the Republic of Ireland's did, after it acceded to the EU. Then we may see the flow of migration reverse!

Yours sincerely,

Frank Little

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Female Prison For Wales

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats have launched a brand new campaign for a Female Prison For Wales. This campaign can be found at:

http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/femaleprison4wales

If you support us in highlighting this requirement then follow the link above and add your name to our petition.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New governor of Swansea gaol is a woman

Isn't it ironic that our local prison is to be managed by a woman (feature on Andrea Whitfield in the Evening Post of 11th August), when there is no women's prison in Wales?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Have your say on Labour website


That was the headline on Friday's story in the Evening Post of 11th August.

Keen to express my opinion (which, according to Aberavon Labour's press release would be passed on to politicians all the way up to Dr Hywel Francis) on the Labour government's foreign policy, and the shortcomings of the Government of Wales Bill, I hied me to www.aberavon.labour.co.uk.

First surprise was that it is not new (as the Post story said). The site has stories dating back to June. Second was that, far from being rooted in the local party, the site is:

Promoted by Peter Watt, General Secretary, the Labour Party on behalf of the Labour Party, both at 16 Old Queen Steet, London SW1H 9HP


Whatever its faults, this site by 'ere is locally produced. We were not told to "get with it" by Big Brother in London.

And, of course, there is no obvious way to express ones views on the Labour web site. It looks like one of those Labour promises (like care for the elderly) which arouses hopes quickly dashed.

To access the poll, you have to find "Have your say" at the top of the page. Clicking this enables you to vote on a single topic of Labour's own choosing. (Currently, it's on the closure of Port Talbot magistrates court. Given the speed with which other magistrates courts in the borough have been closed, in the face of local opposition, one does not hold out much hope of the politicians taking notice of an adverse vote.)

Our policy is different. We encourage contributions on a wide range of topics and will not "Moderate Out" comments that we politically disagree with. Such discussion is healthy for local democracy. Naturally, we have to abide by the law as it applies to any publisher - no libels or downright offensive messages are acceptable, for instance - but otherwise, anything goes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Your DNA in Big Brother's hands

Five times more people in the UK have their DNA records stored on central government records than in any other country in the world. Now DNA records do have a key role in the fight against crime - but that doesn't somehow mean that anything at all done with DNA records is therefore OK.

And there are some tough questions for Labour to answer about why they've built up DNA records far, far in excess of what is needed to help fight crime in other countries.

Questions like:-

Why should the DNA records of innocent people be kept indefinitely?

How secure really are the records? (The Observer newspaper recently pointed out that private firms have secretly been keeping DNA records that should have been destroyed. And only today we learned that the tabloid press, via shadowy third parties, makes use of corrupt officials to get access to records of prominent figures. )

Where are the proper safeguards against misuse of the data?

And what is the explanation for a quarter of the DNA records being from members of the ethnic minorities whilst they only make up under one in ten of the overall population; is there really no racial discrimination going on?

That's why, last week, Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, launched a petition against this over-the-top database. Agreeing that DNA has an important role to play in fighting crime doesn't justify keeping the DNA records for innocent people indefinitely and without proper safeguards.

You can sign the petition at http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/dna

P.S. You can get information on some of our other campaigns at http://www.libdems.org.uk/campaigns/

(Thanks to Lynne Featherstone MP for passing on this information.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Save Greyhounds by Signing the RSPCA Petition Below....



I’m sure most people have been shocked to hear that Animal Cruelty Convictions rose by more than 50% in Wales, last year according to the RSPCA, with a number of high profile cases being highlighted in the media of late.

One of the more disturbing cases of animal cruelty has been the allegations made that a Builders Merchant of County Durham destroyed some ten thousand greyhounds in a fifteen year period using a bolt gun.

The Sunday Times Article, 16th July 2006

The Greyhound Forum, made up from a number of Animal Welfare Charities has called for an immediate inquiry into this slaughter. The Chair of the Greyhound Forum, Clarissa Baldwin said:

“If the reports of the slaughter of thousands of greyhounds are true, the situation is simply intolerable. We have been calling for regulation of the industry for a long time, and after reports like this emerge, it would be unforgivable if the sport’s governing bodies do not sit up and take notice. There have been past instances of horrific abuse of ex-racing greyhounds, which have resulted in prosecution, so there is no excuse for sitting back and ignoring this. The fate of greyhounds after their racing career is over should be at the heart of an enquiry.”

Even more disturbing, animal rights protesters in Spain claim that an estimated fifty thousand greyhounds are killed in Spain every year. Hanging is just one method used to destroy these animals; other methods include injected with bleach or being burnt alive.

Hanging of greyhounds in Spain is especially nasty; the noose around the neck is set at a height so the front paws of the dog don’t touch the ground. The dog is forced to stand on its back legs until it too tired to support itself. Albert Sorde, of SOS Galgos, a greyhound rescue group in Spain is quoted as saying:

“They call it the typewriting death, because the dog's back legs scrabble against the ground and make the clicking sound of a typewriter.....”

Observer Article, Sunday 1st January 2006

An estimated ten thousand greyhounds are retired, at around the age of five, from racing each year in the UK. A number remain with their trainers, others are re-homed by charities like the DogsTrust and the Retired Greyhounds Trust, a huge number just “disappear”.

The RSPCA are calling for a better life for ALL racing greyhounds, the greyhound racing industry must reveal the true extent of the problem

Click Here to Sign the Petition!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Clobbered by council tax?


Tom Brake MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on local government, has launched a competition to find the person who pays the highest proportion of their income in council tax.

The competition highlights the Liberal Democrats campaign ‘Axe the Tax’
to replace council tax with a fairer alternative based on people’s
ability to pay.

Announcing the competition earlier today, Tom said:

“This is a light-hearted way to draw attention to a really serious
problem.

“Council tax is an extremely unfair tax, hitting people on fixed
incomes, such as senior citizens, particularly hard.

“With council tax, people who can afford it least are hit the hardest.”

Further details about the competition and the ‘Axe the Tax’ campaign can
be found at: www.axethetax.org

Neath wins in Wales

We bet that the "winner" in Wales will be found in Neath Port Talbot, which has the highest basic council tax in Wales, and most probably in Skewen. Coedffranc community council has the highest precept in Neath.

The council's recent glossy leaflet claims to have delivered the second lowest council tax rise in Wales. (The lowest is in Liberal Democrat controlled Wrexham, by the way.)

That is true only in percentage terms. If you work it out in real terms, in terms of the extra cash you have to stump up, Neath Port Talbot has the fourth lowest rise - but it still has the highest council tax in Wales.

Competition entries

If you want to enter the competition directly, send your details to:

Tom Brake MP,
House of Commons,
London
SW1A 0AA

Email: braket@parliament.uk

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Community councils in trouble



What is a boundary?

The dispute over the boundary between two Neath community councils claimed another victim last month. Ann Llewelyn joined fellow councillors Lynne John, Robert King and Martyn Peters in resigning from their community council.

"Victim" might seem an over-the-top description, but it is highly unlikely that any of the councillors involved went into community politics looking for a fight. By far the majority of people who put themselves forward for election want to do some good for the community. They are certainly not paid, at "parish" level. Some may be grateful for recognition, perhaps, but surely nobody's primary aim is territorial gain or defence.

Yet, because these four councillors took one side or the other in a fight over which community council should represent two areas of Neath Abbey, and have come under heavy criticism because of that, they have felt compelled to resign.

In a nutshell, what's the trouble?
This is as objective as we can make it, but it is only a brief summary. For the full story, see the report issued on 28th April 2006 by the Local Government Commission for Wales.

Last year, the Local Government Commission looked at an area of Blaenhonddan, largely consisting of new housing development, at its western boundary with Dyffryn Clydach. The River Clydach forms a natural boundary here. However, although it is easy to walk from Brookfield or Taillwyd to Bryncoch in Blaenhonddan, the road links are with Dyffryn Clydach.

Because of this easier access to community facilities, the Commission initially recommended that the transfer be made. This was backed up by a narrow majority in a simple ballot of residents, of whom around one-third returned voting papers.

Having received representations from MP Peter Hain, AM Gwenda Thomas, both CCs (Blaenhonddan opposed, Dyffryn Clydach supported, the change) and individual councillors, the Commission changed its mind. It has now recommended that there be no change.

Is the obvious answer too easy?
It seems to us that, since a majority of the residents affected have voted for a change, then Brookfield and Taillwyd should be moved to Dyffryn Clydach community, as originally recommended.

If that vote is felt to be unsatisfactory, or unrepresentative, then hold another one which is not.

Let democracy rule!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ming - The Right Man for the Job


Seeing as we are all in the habit of passing judgement on Mings record thus far, lets look at his record:

1. Dunfermline By-election - Victory with a huge swing!
2. Some losses but also some good gains whilst consolidating our by-election victories in the English Local Elections 2006.
3. Bromley and Chislehurst - Swing of 17% and narrowly missing victory by 633 votes.
4. A refocussed Parliamentary party with sensible tax proposals - ditching the proposal of 50% tax on high incomes and switching to a system of Eco-Tax.
5. A sensible and balanced approach to Foreign Policy and our relationship with the US.

It is becoming more and more apparent to people that Sir Menzies Campbell is the voice of reason in Westminster.

See http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/menzies_campbell/2006/07/ceasefire_now.html for further details.

We should certainly not judge Ming on the basis of one opinion poll in the Guardian, for that would be nothing more than self-defeatist and the Liberal Democrats are better than that.

We are supposed to be the party of Optimism aren't we? A party that offers hope to millions of voters who now realise that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party listen to their views, opinions and concerns.

- Richie Northcote

Sheila Waye for Neath


Our candidates for the Welsh Assembly elections of 2007 are now all in place, after the final hustings.

Sheila Waye has been selected by local members to stand in the Neath constituency next year. She is a local businesswoman and carer.

Sheila contested Ogmore in a previous Assembly election and Neath in the general election of 2005.

(Our candidate for Aberavon is Claire Waller, and those on the South Wales West regional list are Peter Black, Jackie Radford and Frank Little.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Who do you trust to run the economy?

The Electoral Commission has just published the major political parties' accounts.

The Conservative Party has reported debts of £18 million and the Labour Party £27 million. The Labour Party's figure includes the £14 million of loans, whose commercial nature has been queried. That still leaves a deficit of £13 million.

The Liberal Democrat party, after the most expensive general election campaign in its history, finished its last financial year in the black, with net assets of £298,000.

By their fruits shall ye know them.

Who would you most trust to run the national economy, or county hall?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Zidane and Materazzi - rematch in Skewen?

It seems that a stooshie of World Cup proportions was narrowly missed at a recent meeting of Coedffranc Community Council. If one is to believe the Evening Post, a prominent member of the council offered to take another outside over a probably undemocratic co-option to fill a vacancy.

As a resident of Skewen, I was aware from news reports that a resignation was imminent. One naturally assumed that the resulting vacancy would be widely advertised, as was the much more publicised retirement of Glaslyn Morgan earlier this year. However, the next thing I knew (from the above-mentioned news report) was that a long-standing former member of the CC had been co-opted.

Keith Davies, being freed from his duties as Mayor of the County Borough, and thus able to play his full part in local affairs again, objected to this strengthening of the Labour caucus by stealth. This led to the alleged altercation.

Over the last year, there has been a distressing tendency on the part of the Labour councillors to play party politics on the community council. It is time for the voters of Coedffranc community to be given an opportunity to vote to strengthen the alternative voice on the council.

- Frank Little

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Racist Leaflet? You Decide……



While the events of the 2004 Local Authority Election’s are something of a dim and distant memory, one of the less savoury events of that election, I feel, should be brought into the public domain.

In the Council Ward of Neath North, a leaflet was produced by the Neath Port Talbot Ratepayers Association, of which few people outside that particular ward have seen.

Within this leaflet, it clearly states that:

Did you know that Asylum seekers have more rights to NHS facilities and benefits than British Nationals? Look out for the next wave of bogus Asylum seekers being directed to a street near you, or even moving next door!

While the Labour Party, quite rightly claimed the above comment was racist, no criminal proceedings resulted for that candidate’s agent. Quick to defend their actions, the late leader of the Ratepayer’s was keen to put out a press release to defend their candidate, extracts from that press release follows:

…..This particular leaflet sets out to highlight the many faults with the labour party nationally, one of which is the abysmal record of this government in controlling immigration, and in particular that of bogus asylum seekers, it has only tinkered around the edges of the problem without tackling it head on.

The word Bogus, if you look in the dictionary, is clearly defined as:- Sham, Spurious, False, Fake, or Phoney…….

…..No, this was not a racist leaflet. It is clearly an attempt by a wounded animal i.e. the local labour party to try and discredit the ratepayer association…..

Nowhere in this press release, does the author attempt to enlighten the electorate on why one of his candidates believes that Asylum Seekers have more rights to NHS Facilities or State Benefits than British Nationals.

Perhaps if the new leader of the Ratepayers, Cllr Tutton, has any observations on the above article, he would like to add his comments in the space provided?

- Gary Lewis 08 July 06

Friday, July 07, 2006

No brain surgery west of Cardiff

Health Commission Wales has announced that neurosurgery at Morriston will cease. The only theatre for the whole of Wales will be in Cardiff.

How does one explain this? Wales did not vote for power to be devolved from London only for it to be centralised in Cardiff. It's bad enough for us in West Wales to be deprived of a facility which could make the difference between life and death. People in north and mid Wales must be even more aggrieved and worried.

Figures Make Unhappy Reading


Liberal Democrats in Westminster can exclusively reveal that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is now employing fewer Disabled People now than it was five years ago, down from 5.99% in 2002, to 5.25% in 2006.

These figures come in the wake of a bill in Westminster to reform Incapacity Benefit has been published. This Bill is aimed at getting more people off Incapacity Benefit and back into paid employment.

Danny Alexander MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Welfare Reform, raised the following points:


1. The Government’s incapacity benefit target is more spin than substance, with one million people already due to come off benefit in the next 10 years because of retirement.

2. We need to hear much more about how employers’ including government departments - are to be engaged in this process.


Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats can exclusively reveal that the number of people moving off Job Seekers Allowance having found work in the Aberavon Constituency has dropped, quite sharply from September 2004 to September 2005.

September 2004 57.4% found work.
September 2005 41.3% found work.

These figures strongly suggest that people who are unable to find suitable employment are moving from Job Seekers Allowance and onto other benefits, and that Jobs are becoming harder to find within the Aberavon Constituency.

2001 Census data paints a “less than rosy” picture for the County of Neath Port Talbot. The Census data shows that some 24% of the working age population, within the County having a limiting long-term illness.

Only two other counties in Wales, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil have worse rates of limiting long-term illness than Neath Port Talbot.

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats were quite shocked to see how few Disabled People (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) were employed by Local Authorities within Wales. Figures obtained from the Local Government Data Unit (2004/05) show that Anglesey employs just 0.22% Disabled People, the lowest in Wales. While RCT employs 3.65% Disabled People, the highest in Wales.

Neath Port Talbot Council employ 1.51% Disabled People, which is substantially higher than many Local Authorities in Wales, but local Lib Dems feel to be totally inadequate when you consider the number of people within the County who have a limiting long-term illness.

- Gary Lewis 07 July 06

Monday, July 03, 2006

Education Education Education


The remarks by the new Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, Richard Lambert, today, will serve as a warning shot across the bows of the Flagship Education Policy of New Labour.

Richard Lambert has declared that:

“Despite the increases in spending, British skills at all levels remain woefully short of world-class, with a shockingly high proportion of our young people still leaving school without the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed by business.”

There would seem to be a familiar pattern emerging here between failures in public services and the Governments response of throwing more and more money at trying to solve the issues. These issues will not go away with an endless flow of funding. The issues need to be addressed at the managerial level, ensuring that the extra funding is being managed correctly. This is where the Government is failing and, unfortunately, it is the future of our children that is suffering as a result.

A government-commissioned inquiry by former Ofsted chief Sir Mike Tomlinson found that even those who did have good GCSE maths and English often lacked "functional" skills of the sort businesses need. This is an issue of particular relevance to Neath Port Talbot County Borough, where the need for a skilled workforce is essential if industries investing here are to compete with the skilled (and cheaper) workforces of Eastern Europe and Asia. If the industries cannot find the skilled workforce they require then they will relocate.

The Governments response is to order a change in the qualifications to reflect this requirement. However, the first syllabuses are due to be available around the turn of the decade! The burning question must be - How much longer does the Government need? They have had 9 years since 1997 and now they want another 4, at least.

Nobody is denying that the extra funding is helping, because it is helping. However, the issue is that, the extra funding is not being managed to its full potential.

- Richard Northcote 03 July 06

Neath Port Talbot – Well Below the Welsh Average!


The figures shown below are obtained from the Local Government Data Unit and clearly show that the number of Women employed in Senior Management Positions within Labour Dominated Neath Port Talbot Council have remained, on average, around the 7.5% mark for the third year running!

2004/05 7.7%

2003/04 7.1%

2002/03 7.4%

2001/02 10.34%

In other Local Authorities, in Wales, women make up over 20% of the senior managers, these councils include Denbighshire, Conwy, Flintshire and Blaenau Gwent. Yet in Neath and Port Talbot women in senior management positions, were running at just over 10% in 2001/02. In stark contrast, 2004/05 the figure was down further to 7.7%, the lowest in Wales.

The Liberal Democrat led administrations of Cardiff and Swansea have 24% and 19.4% respectively, of Women, in senior management positions.

In the years preceding the Liberal Democrat coalition in Bridgend County, the percentage of women in senior management positions was a pathetic 5.6%. Since the creation of the coalition the figure has improved to 10.8%.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats were recently made aware of an “Equality of Opportunity in Employment” document, last updated in November 2001. Section 2.1 of this document states:

“As a major employer, the authority is committed to taking positive action to eliminate discrimination and to redress past imbalances in order to provide genuine equality of opportunity.”

As yet, there still remains this inconceivable imbalance. I find these statistics to be inconceivable in the extreme that, in this day and age, this imbalance has gone unchallenged for so long. It’s been over thirty years since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. I find these figures absolutely appalling, and clearly the council is doing nothing to address the gender imbalance that exists within the senior management structure of the authority.

I urge Neath Port Talbot Council to ensure that all candidates for future Senior Positions are considered on their individual, rather than their collective, merits and upon their ability to do the job in which they will be employed.

- Sheila Waye 03 July 06

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Conservative Arrogance


Here in Wales, the events at Blaenau Gwent have overshadowed the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election. While the Tories just managed to hold onto their 17th safest seat, their majority was slashed by a staggering 11%.

Ben Abbotts (pictured left) of the Liberal Democrats increased the party’s share of the vote by some 17%, achieving a 14% swing from the Tories and a massive 16% swing from Labour and coming within a mere 633 votes of taking this safest of Tory seats. The Labour Party support in this Constituency almost evaporated, pushing them into fourth place behind UKIP. They managed to poll a mere 1,925 votes!

In the most elaborate show of arrogance, the successful Conservative candidate, Bob Neil delivered this scathing and bitter attack on the Liberal Democrats:

“If you sometimes wonder why it is that people are turned off by politics, get a mirror and look at yourselves.”

This just goes to show, how out of touch the Conservative party is. People are turned off by politics because they feel that the politicians are not listening to their views, opinions and concerns. It is also clear that the Liberal Democrats are the party that these disenchanted voters are turning to in the hope of making a difference. For Bob Neil to deliver such vile rhetoric is to further disenchant the electorate and, in a split-second show of arrogance, completely dismiss the hopes and expectations of the 10,988 constituents who voted Liberal Democrat. Just to set the record straight, that’s 10,988 Lib Dem voters who Bob Neil now represents.

Ben Abbotts said:

“This was a campaign in which the Conservative Party tried to take the support of local people for granted - Bromley and Chislehurst was the seventeenth safest Conservative seat in the whole country at the last General Election………Tonight's result has been far from convincing for the Conservatives, and it is clear that Labour has lost the trust of its former supporters. This result shows that as Labour lose support nationally - it is the Liberal Democrats to whom people are turning.”

Saturday, July 01, 2006

By-elections

Politicians in danger?

"Blaenau Gwent celebrates National Archaeology Week" declares a council press release.
This is appropriate in a week where Dai Davies, the victorious candidate for People's Voice in the Westminster by-election, declared that the old parties should recall the fate of the dinosaurs.

The "adapt or die" message should particularly be heeded by Labour, who were accused of bombarding the voters of Blaenau Gwent with glossily packaged messages, but did not spend any time listening.

It is rumoured that Labour threw many thousands of pounds at both campaigns. They would have done some good for the economy of the valleys, and for their own reputation, if they had spent some of that money on printing their colour leaflets locally.

Our candidates
did well to hold on to the Liberal Democrat vote when the key struggle was between New Labour and traditional socialism.

Liberal Democrats do not have the luxury of traditional safe seats, and are therefore less likely to take votes for granted. However, there is a warning for us in Dai Davies's words, too.

Who should be more worried, Blair or Cameron?

The question was asked on BBC Radio's "Any Questions" this weekend, after New Labour's failure in Blaenau Gwent and the Conservatives' nail-biter in Bromley & Chislehurst.

For me, David Cameron's future looks the more uncertain. The Conservative vote in a supposedly safe Tory seat plummeted, and the Liberal Democrat vote, which Cameron is clearly pitching for, was rock-solid. Clearly, traditional Tories don't like the touchy-feely Cameron touch, Labour voters are switching to Liberal Democrat and LibDems just do not believe the Cameron line.

Blair has already mentally disregarded the failure to regain the Blaenau Gwent Westminster seat. He was not about to renounce his reform programme and re-embrace socialism, which might just have persuaded the valleys voters, but would surely have lost by-elections and council seats galore in England.

The real loser is Rhodri Morgan, who must now be considering his position as leader of Welsh Labour and as First Minister. The People's Voice success in the Assembly election was comprehensive. It also condemns Labour once more to minority government in Cardiff.

- Frank Little

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Plaid’s Political Leanings – I’m Confused


Readers of the Western Mail may have noticed the letter submitted by Dai Lloyd, which appeared in the publications letters page on the 26th June 2006.

http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/letters/thewesternmail

Mr Lloyd chose to attack the Liberal Democrat led coalition within Swansea Council for being in partnership with the Tory Councillors.

Also in this letter Mr Lloyd tries to make out that Plaid is some sort of Socialist alternative, occupying the left of centre ground on the political map. This is far from the original political leanings of this Party.

Saunders Lewis (pictured above), writer, dramatist, jailbird and original president of Plaid Cymru was well known for his Anti-Semitic and Pro-Fascist views; this man was a true 1930’s style nationalist.

Furthermore, Plaid has always been in various coalitions with Tories, Socialist and various other political shades in between. Dafydd Wigley, consciously set a more Socialist agenda for the South, to attract disenchanted Labour voters when he was leader. This worked, to a certain extent. However, I understand this upset the more conservative “Old Guard” in the North.

- Gary Lewis 29 June 06