Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What sort of Christmas message is this?

According to statistics just released, the UK is now a more Catholic country than an Anglican one. It's not conversions like Anne Widdecombe's or Tony Blair's which has tipped the balance, but the high proportion of church-goers among the people from Poland who have come here to work.

This sense of Christian solidarity does not extend to the authorities, who are quite prepared to force the Williams family of Swansea to return to virtually certain violent recrimination in Pakistan, because of their faith.

The episode illustrates the inhuman inconsistency in Britain's immigration policy. The Home department has targets of repatriation to meet. It is understaffed and short on skills, so it is the "low-hanging fruit" which is plucked. People who have set down roots in the community, and therefore have a fixed address, are grabbed in dawn raids. Those illegal immigrants, with no genuine concerns about persecution, who are less traceable, including a criminal element, are not successfully pursued.

Frank Little

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our desktop


This refers.

Does anybody recognise the scene?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New leader to visit Wales

Nick Clegg, in one of his first interviews after being elected leader of the Liberal Democrats today, made the welcome announcement that he intended to hold a series of "town meetings" to engage with ordinary voters away from the Westminster village. He confirmed to BBC Wales that he had already spoken to leading members in Wales about this. Mike German and Peter Black have been quick to respond to Nick's victory.

It should be noted that Nick chose to launch his Welsh campaign for the leadership not in the Cardiff village, but in Swansea. This precedent clearly means that we can take him at his word.

And the "curse of Lembit" has finally been broken!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some justice for ASW pensioners

At last, thanks to pressure from the trade unions and from LibDem MP, Jenny Willott, the government has bowed to demands for improvements in their compensation for pensions lost when Allied Steel & Wire went bust.

John Benson, a leading campaigner and spokesman for the ASW workers, was bitter about the lack of support from Labour MPs, when he spoke on BBC-2's "Working Lunch" today. He suggested that their loyalty to Gordon Brown took precedence over their concern for their constituents.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Aberdeenshire disgrace

In the face of a sustained and occasionally vituperative campaign in the local press, Aberdeenshire planning committee turned down an application from US billionaire Donald Trump to build a golf course which would have altered the character of a section of the coast and affected a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Now the forces behind the development have taken their revenge, the main victim being the Liberal Democrat chairman of the planning committee. Liberal Democrats Iain Dale and Bernald Salmon, in their blogs, tell the story better than I can.

If the Scottish Nationalist government has its way, yet another blow against localism will have been struck and the day when local councillors become no more than paid rubber stamps (see also Peter Black's comments on Councillors Unlimited) comes ever closer.

Frank Little

Friday, December 07, 2007

Cwmgwrach youth need more activities and fewer ASBOs

It seems hypocritical for Neighbourhood Watch in Cwmgwrach to object to youths riding motor cycles in the local woods, and riding jet skis on the local lake, while at the same time arranging to bulldoze a popular youth facility, the Cwmgwrach Cabin Club - see the removal Neath Guardian story.

Local Liberal Democrats object to the elimination of a facility for acceptable youth activities, while condemning anti-social behaviour.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Green energy": tories rip off more LibDem policies

David Cameron has announced some policies aimed at encouraging micro-generation - only 18 months behind policy agreed by Welsh Liberal Democrats, on the initiative of its younger members.

Cameron proposes to abolish the grant scheme - but Labour has effectively done this already, by reducing the pool of money and cutting the maximum grant. What neither has done is to provide a means of poorer people, who would benefit most, of finding the money to install micro-generators and solar heating. What is surely needed is a system of soft loans.

- Frank Little

DVLA now owns up to data butterfingers

News is just coming in that DVLA has admitted that it sent 1200 personal driver licence details - including name, address and convictions - to the wrong people.

If one of the better-run government agencies can make such a slip, then one is more than ever convinced that carelessness with people's personal information is systemic.

The Evening Post has more details.

- Frank Little

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Peter Hain, fund-raising and the Royal Mail

Mr Hain has been concerned to wipe the slate clean after he found that his deputy leadership campaign team had received an undeclared donation from Jon Mendelsohn.

He has now retrospectively declared a fund-raising function at a Cardiff restaurant, sponsored by Huw Roberts, Director of Welsh Affairs, Royal Mail Group.

It is for others to judge how far these declarations were voluntary and how far they were pre-empted by journalists like Guido Fawkes. It is for the authorities to decide how far Mr Hain is culpable under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000. On the evidence in the press and the blogosphere so far, it seems that, if he is guilty, then at least half-a-dozen other Labour politicians are in the dock with him.

What is much more concerning is the involvement in party political affairs of the head in Wales of what is still a public-sector organisation.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Your life details in their hands

It seems that the police have given up hope of recovering the Tax Credit disks in their unexamined state, and are now searching rubbish dumps.

Now there is confirmation of a careless attitude to data security in the Department of Work and Pensions. The revelation that a contractor took personal copies of sensitive information, over a year ago, might not have been made if journalists had not been following up the story of the Tax Credit disks.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Danny Alexander MP has written to Peter Hain calling on him to act to restore confidence in his department.

Danny Alexander said:

“This latest shocking revelation suggests that the culture of carelessness with personal data exists across the whole Government.

“There is a real concern that if some of the most vulnerable people lose confidence in the Government’s ability to look after their personal data, they will not claim money to which they are entitled.

“It is very surprising that Peter Hain has not spoken publicly about his department data practices since the HMRC scandal broke. He needs to speak up now or risk further undermining public confidence in the benefits system.”

Later: The government is offering a £20,000 reward to anyone who finds the missing HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) discs containing 25 million child benefit records, after the initial police search failed to find them.

The search for the missing CDs has been led by a core team of 47 detectives and computer experts from the Metropolitan Police's Specialist and Economic Crime Command.

Now that the main search has finished without finding the CDs, the Met has appealed to all staff at HMRC, the National Audit Office and the Treasury to check at work and "other locations" for the discs. HMRC courier TNT will also ask its staff to help with the search for the CDs.

In addition to the police appeal, HMRC is now offering a reward of "up to £20,000" for information leading to the safe return of the CDs - despite the fact acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable last week claimed the data on the discs could be worth up to £1.5bn to criminals on the black market.

[From Andy McCue, writing for silicon.com]

You remember just one sheep ... !

I must have sent over a dozen emails to BBC Radio Wales' "Good Evening, Wales!" about subjects as diverse as, say, government structures in Wales and the management ethos of the Labour Party, but do they broadcast them? Do they thump.

However, in a weak moment last week, inspired by the story of Lottie, the fugitive Swansea sheep, and Felicity Evans (I think it was) commenting on the name of one of Lottie's family, I wrote to say that I remembered an earlier ovine Letitia. She was the sister of Larry the Lamb in the Toytown stories from "Children's Hour" long ago. Needless to say, this was broadcast.

- Frank Little

Friday, November 30, 2007

Zero Carbon Britain

For a rare picture of Lembit without an adoring female on his arm (jealous? moi?), visit CAT's zero carbon pages.

Seriously, it's great news that we have swiftly signed up to the Centre for Alternative Technology's manifesto. This follows Mick Bates's consistent championing of green policies in the Senedd.

It's ironic that CAT - well worth a visit, by the way - is just outside the Montgomery constituency. However, to be fair to Plaid, Nia Griffith was in on the discussions which drew up the agenda. There is as yet no sign of the peripolitan Tories.

- Frank Little

Christine Humphreys new president of Welsh LibDems

Former Assembly Member Christine Humphreys, who was narrowly defeated by Mike German for leadership of the party in 1998, has been elected the new President of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Christine takes over from Rob Humphries of the Swansea and Gower party.

Rob will be remembered as the President who guided us through a difficult period in the party's history with firmness tempered with good humour and ready wit.

The official announcement continues: "Christine, who was AM for North Wales between 1999 and 2001, said: 'I’m delighted to have been elected President by the membership and look forward to representing their interests over the next two years.

"'One of the most important duties of President is representing the views of our members within the NEC. Doing that effectively means travelling to as many constituencies as possible to talk to, and most importantly, to listen to, members in their own communities.

"'Having done most jobs in the party – from making tea to making policy – I’m looking forward to playing a full role in the next stage of the party’s development.'

"Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Mike German offered his congratulations.

"He said: 'I congratulate Christine on her election and look forward to working with her again in the months to come.

"'Christine has a strong record in the party, and is a well known figure across the political, charity and media sectors in Wales. She brings a wealth of campaigning experience as well as a fresh perspective on the opportunities ahead.'

"Christine Humphreys was elected AM for North Wales in the first Assembly. She retired due to ill health in 2001. A former English teacher, she is now a part time Welsh tutor at Bangor University. She is Chair of Aberconwy Local Party, and acting vice chair of North Wales Regional Committee."


Notes:

The President’s role is to be “the principal public representative of the Party at large”.

The post is filled by election by an all-member ballot. MPs, AMs, MEPs and Lords are not eligible for this post.

A Review is Under Way

With acknowledgments to Liberal Democrat News

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

William Blake

Wednesday, 28th November 2007, is the 250th anniversary of William Blake.

It would be easy to claim him as a fellow-fighter for liberty. However, he would be an uncomfortable companion today. He railed against all authority and would no doubt campaign against elected governments and councils, as he used to against the tyranny of kings. There is no certainty that he would be satisfied with a constitutional monarchy as a substitute for a republic.

He revelled in the French Revolution and despised education. "The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction."

He trusted his own personal vision of God rather than the insights of scientists (or the teachings of any organised religion):
"The atoms of Democritus
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore,
Where Israels' tents do shine so bright."

But it would be good to have him on our side in the resistance to a national identity database, to illegal wars, to forms of slavery and to corruption in high places. He was exercised by the 18th century equivalents of all these.

- Frank Little

Monday, November 26, 2007

Local councillors should have more responsibility

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its findings on the involvement of ward councillors in their communities.

The paragraphs:

"# Community engagement: councillors need to be more actively engaged with all parts of the community if they are to be effective leaders. They need to be empowered and supported to engage with residents and community groups using a range of different tools.
# Advocacy: councillors need to be able to speak freely and openly challenge the executive."

jump out at one from the wish-list of the councillors giving evidence to the Foundation.

There is much to be mulled over in the report generally. We would be grateful for any informed comments.

Friday, November 23, 2007

You can't keep Paul Flynn MP down ...

... though, no doubt, many in the Establishment would like to.

Seriously, we were sorry to hear of his recent illness and glad to know that he is practically fully recovered.

Sustrans Connect2 wants your support

Please visit the Sustrans Connect2 web page to endorse the Connect2 campaign for Big Lottery support for new walking and cycling networks throughout the UK.

Online voting opens on Monday 26th November at www.thepeoples50million.org.uk.

(And thanks to Paul Hulbert for correcting a mis-typed link to the Connect 2 site.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The tax credit scandal

People should be worried about the probable revelation of their tax credit records, and the associated personal details. The government assurances are worth nothing. The fact that no fraudulent activity has been detected so far means nothing.

The rogues who would know what to do with the data would also know to take their time in making use of them. They have already had weeks to decide what to do with them. At worst, they may already have been sold abroad and are sitting on one or more databases in the South-East Asia.

So, take the advice given by reputable authorities - for instance, see the BBC and the banks' UK Payments Association.


The Blame Game

Not only the current New Labour administration, but also the Conservatives, bear some responsibility for the systemic failures.

The Conservatives, because under Mrs Thatcher and Michael Heseltine, bodies which had begun to build up professionalism in management and IT in government service - The Civil Service College, the Central Computer Agency and the National Computing Centre - were swept away, reduced or privatised.

The Tories also privatised functions within the public service. Thus the internal mail system, which used to be directly accountable to a civil servant, is contracted out - currently to TNT, it appears.

Labour, because they made desperate across-the-board cuts in civil service establishment at the same time as merging the Revenue with HM Customs. (The Conservatives would also have made swingeing cuts in the service, as their 2005 manifesto made clear. I am even a little concerned about the vagueness of both our leadership contenders' references to "efficiency savings".)


Commerce is more trustworthy?

Something I've heard in a couple of vox pops today is that, if such a débâcle occurred in private industry, the chairman, managing director and probably the board would have been compelled to resign.

I doubt it. Top jobs are under threat only if "shareholder value" is affected. Nobody resigned over the data leaks at TKMaxx, BT or several banks and building societies.


But there are no excuses for Gordon Brown's failure to heed the warnings.

- Frank Little

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Historic green belt saved

We were among the many people supporting the Bryncoch Farm Action Group in their fight to avoid this significant piece of countryside being built over.

Now it seems that the Group has been successful as planning officers of Neath Port Talbot CBC are to recommend refusal of consent for the development.

The provision of new homes at Llandarcy and the housing market slowdown may have been factors in the officers' decision, but it is not certain that Bryncoch Farm would have been saved without determined local action.

Congratulations to all concerned.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Micro-generation: government failure

As predicted, the cuts in government grants have resulted in a reduction in fossil-fuel saving domestic schemes. LibDem MP Jenny Willott highlights the effect on a fledgling Welsh industry.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanks, Richie

Richard Northcote set up this blog (and did a lot of other things for the liberal and independent-minded citizens of Resolven and the Neath constituency in general). At times he has seemed to be cramming 36 hours into a day, juggling a demanding day job (which involved regular long-distance travel) and service to the country in the Territorial Army with the secretaryship of Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats.

Something had to give, and his selection for a course leading to possible promotion in the TA has forced the issue. Richie sees this as incompatible with continuing to be an activist and is consequently giving up his officerships in the local party, including editing this blog.

Thanks Richie, congratulations on the likely future captaincy, and do you want to contribute any thoughts before you go into political purdah?

- Frank Little

More broadband at last

It is surprising that the bold move to link up over a dozen North Wales business parks, from Wrexham to Anglesey, with a high-speed fibre optic trunk network has attracted little attention outside the Daily Post and the technical media.

This is a real all-Wales decision, one which I trust the Rainbow Alliance would also have taken if it had come to power. If the new network is swiftly shown to attract new businesses and improve existing ones, as it should, one hopes that the network, or a similar facility, is extended to mid-Wales.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Aberavon leisure attraction delay

The Evening Post is reporting that there are further difficulties at the 10-pin bowling alley development at Hollywood Park.

Is this going to be, like Swansea, a case of another Labour fiefdom, another leisure centre crisis?

UK teenagers world-ignorant - but Welsh youngsters better than most

British schoolchildren are bottom of the class when it comes to international awareness, according to a report today.

The British Council survey scored children in ten countries round the world, on a series of questions. On a scale of 1 to 7, Nigeria came top with 5.15. Not unexpectedly, US teenagers turned in a miserable 2.2. However, they were kept off the bottom of the table by the UK with 2.19.

The relatively reassuring news for Wales is that the nation's schoolchildren beat even the Scots within the UK. (Wales 2.43, Scotland 2.35, Northern Ireland 2.25 and England 2.17)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

London takes £3.76 million of our money

BBC Wales news is reporting this morning that the Welsh Office in London is taking nearly £4 million extra each year for the foreseeable future. This will come from the money allocated to Wales under the Barnett formula and will be spent on filling vacant civil service posts in Whitehall. It is apparently necessary to fund the Westminster end of the complicated process of preparing Welsh legislation.

Read the story and Jenny Randerson's reaction here. See also Peter Black's take under "Spin or substance" on his blog.

The messy compromise between granting full law-making powers and maintaining the status quo always seemed likely to lead to duplication and increased expenditure, and so it has proved.

Leadership electon - Cardiff hustings

If anything, the Cardiff hustings held yesterday evening emphasised the similarities rather than the differences between two excellent candidates.

Whether Chris Huhne or Nick Clegg is elected as our leader, that man is going to carry the fight for Liberal Democrat values. Both were determined to have our difference from the increasingly indistinguishable other two parties recognised in the media. Both also promised to do more to engage with ordinary voters, and to encourage more women, people with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities to come forward as candidates.

Click on the candidates' names above to go to their web-sites. If any member wants to know how to join in the internal on-line hustings, please email us.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Centenary of political milestone for women

In this year of anniversaries, it is easy to overlook the 1907 Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Act which enabled women to stand for election to local councils for the first time. It was yet another instance of progress under that great Liberal government.

More details on the Chipping Sodbury and Three Rivers blogs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Post Office closures, Royal Mail degradation


The government appears to want to discourage ordinary people from posting letters. At the same time, Royal Mail continues to pour commercial mailings through our front doors. Many of these, pushing personal loans, contribute to the current debtor state of the nation.

Meanwhile, the threat of post office closures draw closer. The list for South Wales Central is published today.

When is this government - a Labour government - going to regard post offices as a resource for the citizen, not an embarrassment to Westminster?

Liberal Democrats have long had a policy which would raise money for investment in post offices while giving a share in ownership to the mails to its workers. Isn't it time that New Labour abandoned its "not invented here" mind-set and adopted this?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Alison Halford to lift the lid on Labour

The Daily Post reports that the ex-assistant chief constable, ex-MP for Delyn, ex-Labour party member, Alison Halford, is about to publish an account of the early days of the Assembly. The book, entitled "Leeks from the Back Benches", will remind us, among other things, that Miss Halford voted against spending plans for the £109m Wales Millennium Centre and was suspended for a week from the Labour Party group for her stand.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Edwina Hart and the local health board

My first response to the news that Edwina Hart wants to reduce the number of local health boards (currently based on local authority boundaries) was that this was a typical Labour move towards centralisation. It wasn't clear to me that it would reduce the incidence of patients being "lost in the gaps".

Siobhan Mclelland's considered view, based on experience, is probably more accurate, though: "She's going to do what politicians always do when they come into the health service... they reorganise structure as a proxy for making real changes."

And, as always, a reorganisation would soak up money which could be better spent.

Why not allow the NHS in Wales to evolve to suit the needs of its users?

- Frank Little

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gwyn Hall gutted by fire


We awoke to the devastating news that millions of pounds worth of restoration has literally gone up in smoke. As the photo shows, firemen were still damping down at 11 a.m. today. Police have Orchard Street barricaded off.

No doubt council staff are already beginning an assessment of whether there is enough of the original building left to make it worthwhile recommencing restoration work - that is, assuming that the building was sufficiently insured.

The worry must be that the fire was started deliberately. One hopes that minds can speedily put at rest on this point.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Walking and Cycling Strategy for Wales

In 2002, during the Labour-LibDem coalition, a consultation paper with the title above issued from Cardiff. So far as one can see, there has been no substantive result of this consultation. (The Assembly Government's web site is not the easiest to search, seemingly orientated to AMs and staff who know all the jargon and abbreviations, rather than to the general public; if an AM can point us to an authoritative document, I shall apologise gratefully.)

This became topical yesterday, when Lee Waters of Sustrans presented a petition, under the new procedures, calling for the Assembly Government to create and maintain a network of traffic-free routes throughout Wales. Not only would this benefit the leisure industry, giving visitors more opportunity to enjoy our beautiful country, but would also encourage Welsh citizens to get out of their cars. When obesity is highlighted as a threat to health in the United Kingdom, and affecting Wales as badly as anywhere, we need to get people to take healthy exercise, on cycle or on foot.

Lee Waters described the existing provision as "patchy". If that is so, then Neath Port Talbot is typical of Wales as a whole. There are well-constructed and well-signed cycleways which peter out. There are well-signed cycleways and footways which are in part well maintained, in part neglected and in other parts virtually impassable. There are yet others which are marked on OS maps, yet prove difficult to find on the ground.

One hopes that the Sustran petition will stimulate some long overdue action on the part of the Assembly Government. The financial outlay would be minuscule compared with the commitments to the trunk and classified road network.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where's the aqueduct?

In May of this year, the county borough council announced that Ynysbwllog Aqueduct in the Vale of Neath was being restored to its former glory.

Construction was expected to be complete by October this year.

Leader of Council, Derek Vaughan, said, "When completed the aqueduct will stand as the longest unsupported single span aqueduct in the UK.

"It will provide Neath Port Talbot with a major physical landmark which will have a national profile."

Bob Minty, Manager of Neath Canal Navigation, added, "We are delighted that the aqueduct scheme is now underway. This project will not only restore a substantial section of the canal but will benefit the public through offering improvements to leisure facilities."

"I am looking forward to seeing the proud faces of the people of Neath and the valleys when they see the aqueduct completed."

So are we, gentlemen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dr Crippen is back

With witty words about Gordon Brown and informed comment about hospital infections.

http://nhsblogdoc.blogspot.com/

I'm glad Wales has a devolved health service.

- Frank Little

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ming leadership causes yet more polling disasters

Election Results: Thursday 11th October 2007.

Horsham DC, Holbrook West
LD Belinda Walters 602 (43.9; +11.1), Con 554 (40.4; -6.5), BNP 163 (11.9;
+11.9), Lab 52 (3.8; +0.2), [Ind (0.0; -16.6)].
Majority 48. Turnout 32.2%. LD gain from Con. Last fought 2007.

Chippenham TC, Pewsham
LD Mark Packard 493 (58.8), Con 346 (41.2).
Majority 147. Turnout 19.5%. LD gain from Con.

It is high time we listened to our critics and elected an unknown good-looking young leader with no obvious principles, in order to reverse these disasters and hand seats back to the Tories.

- Frank Little

Friday, October 12, 2007

Borough should release land for recreation



We have long been campaigning for land at Tonmawr, originally allocated for housing but never used, to be released - after minimal restoration - for much needed informal recreational use.

Now we see that Seven Sisters Community Council is making a similar call in respect of a former ash tip.

Both stories raise the question of what the "Communities First" programme actually achieves.

Welsh agriculture penalised for getting things right?

Welsh and Scottish farmers are not to be compensated for loss of earnings from movement restrictions due to the Pirbright foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. £12.5 million has been allocated to English farmers.

It seems that the Treasury is still punishing DEFRA for its £500 million failed computer project to process EU farm payments to English farmers. (Wales and Scotland adopted less sophisticated systems, and paid out more or less to time.)

The immediate result was to cut other DEFRA budgets, such as that for inland waterways. Now it seems that justice for Welsh and Scottish farmers is to go the same way.

As another blogger has written, now is the time for the Welsh voice at the cabinet table to bring his influence to bear.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

West Glamorgan Rainbow Trust vandal victims



The Evening Post and the Neath Guardian report that thousands of pounds worth of damage has been done to the trust's Ty Banc tea room and gift shop, and its Enfys canal boat in Resolven.

The boat provided elderly and disabled people with the chance to enjoy a relaxing cruise along the canal at reduced cost. The charity used sales from the Ty Banc Cottage tea room and gift shop to help pay for the upkeep of the barge.

But the constant repair bills have drained the charity's coffers, says the Post.

We have to ask: why was not more done to protect this worthwhile charity? What are the prospects for visitors when the Abergarwed work is completed, and the canal is navigable down to Neath again?

There are differences between the parties

Ming Camphell drew attention to one of them today at Prime Minister's Questions: we still believe in Local Income Tax to replace the unfair Council Tax.

Labour and now, it seems, Plaid Cymru, want to stick with the Tory tax which penalises householders on low fixed incomes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why are we going on about Iraq?

You would think that the decision to support the Americans in Iraq was past history. Blair, who either deceived us or made a genuine mistake, has now gone. The government maintains troops in Iraq as a reserve for the US, but that is a separate issue. We are told that the electors are bored with discussion of the rights and wrongs of the invasion (though it should be noted that Conservatives, like Glyn Davies still find it necessary to excuse themselves from being taken in by the "intelligence").

However, it now transpires that the US is considering air strikes against Iran and has sought support from the UK. Opinions differ as to whetherGordon Brown has fallen in with the plan, but there is little doubt that at least a limited attack on Iran is seriously being considered.

Expect this to be a live issue in the general election, whenever it comes.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Don't be disenfranchised

If there is a general election before December, it will be conducted on the electoral roll drawn up on the basis of October 2006 data. If you have moved in the last twelve months, you will need to re-register (a form is available from the ERO in Port Talbot civic centre) at least 11 days before any election. To reduce a last-minute log-jam of applications, people wishing to vote should re-register as soon as possible. It would be as well not to wait for Gordon Brown's announcement.

If you are away from home (for instance, in college), you have the option of registering here or voting back home. If the latter, make sure you know where your polling station is located, if you want to vote in person; otherwise, apply for a postal vote in good time.

Transport in Wales - an announcement about announcements

The much-heralded statement by Ieuan Wyn Jones, minister for transport in the Labour-Nationalist coalition, turned oot to be a waste of air-space. There are to be future announcements about some road-schemes, but no guarantee that the A470 will be improved to take more traffic.

As to rail, IWJ has fallen in line with the old Labour government: there is a perfectly good north-south air link, he said, and his officials would "look at" speeding up existing rail services.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Northern Lights connections



I didn't realise that there was a connection between my late mother-in-law and John Lennon until I came across a report of the Northern Lights festival. I wonder if she collected her souvenir at a time when the young Lennons spent their summer holidays there?

- Frank Little

Frank Little - an interest in politics

I am reluctantly rising to Peter Black's "First political memory meme" challenge to explain my political activism, when I should be writing articles in anticipation of a general election, among other things.

It became clear only in retrospect that I was brought up in a politically-minded family. My father, and his father before him, came from a strong Labour and trades union background, though there must have been some regard for what Lloyd George did as Liberal chancellor, evidenced by a family holiday in North Wales whose highlight was a visit to Llanystumdwy.

My father's regular army service prevented him from any practical expression of his views. When "bowler-hatted", he lost no time in becoming a Labour councillor.

My mother was not so overtly political, but came from a very Conservative background. She recalled that Frank Owen, soon to become MP for Hereford, once offered her and her sisters a lift to a function they wished to attend, but she was warned by her parents not to have anything to do with those dangerous Liberals.

Early political memories at school were of Lord Citrine (a famous trade union leader of his day, and author of a well-regarded little book on chairmanship) giving a speech whose language was rather too robust for our new headmaster, who obviously had nothing to do with the booking; and a lecture on behalf of the European movement, which convinced both on the political and economic level.

My real political education (in the broadest sense) started with membership of the old CSCA (a predecessor of the PCS) and consequent annual conferences and summer schools.

I still wasn't committed to any party, but my first adult vote went against the tired and sleazy Conservative administration, and for Labour, inspired by Harold Wilson's rhetoric about the white heat of the technological revolution. Then Wilson appointed Frank Cousins as Minister of Technology. Some cynicism set in.

Setting up home in Wales and the business of supporting a family by means of absorbing work at DVL meant that there was little time for politics. Besides, though neither Conservatives nor Labour were perfect, there was still general consensus about Europe, public support for education, health and passenger transport (even Labour now thinks this is an extreme "left" position), while the destructive cycle of denationalisation and renationalisation of commercial undertakings had been broken.

Then came Thatcher, Howe, Heseltine and Tebbitt. I could write a further half-dozen paragraphs about how their doctrinaire "greed is good" approach damaged (probably irreparably) public service, and set sections of the community against each other. Indeed, they failed to recognise that communities within the nation exist.

It was time to get off the backside. The Labour Party of "the longest suicide note in history" was out of the question. I joined the Liberal Party one week before the merger with the Social Democrats, and thus became a founder member of the Welsh Social and Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Elected councillors must have final say

The Evening Post reports that Neath Port Talbot cabinet member stormed out of a planning meeting after members refused to follow officers' advice. Instead they followed the recommendations of a site visit panel, which is made up of elected councillors.

A unitary authority cannot function without its paid officials. In addition to their administrative burden, they must advise on the law and on planning guidelines. However, they are not directly responsible to the people. The buck stops with the elected council.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bluetongue - can the government do more?

No, it's not the disease which has afflicted Gordon Brown, but a disease which afflicts cattle and, particularly, sheep.

It is carried by a midge. Until recently, it was restricted to the continent of Africa. However, with global warming, the vector (carrier) is now able to survive in more northern latitudes and the disease is endemic in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

The disease has now been detected on a rare breeds farm near Ipswich. It can only be a matter of time before it spreads across southern Britain. Since a vaccine is more than a year away, we must pray for a hard winter this year or brace ourselves for the sight of sheep dying on our hillsides.

- Frank Little

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Neath Port Talbot crack-down - at last

The news that Neath Port Talbot CBC have cracked down on the misuse of council Internet facilities is welcome.

The unions have a valid point if the disciplined employees were not given clear conditions of employment (something which has been the norm in government service for many years). However, it does not excuse wasting work-time which council-tax payers have been charged for.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Neath Port Talbot health board

The AGM of the local health board will be held at 15:30 on 27th September at the Aberavon Beach Hotel.

Citizens of Skewen may wish to attend, to ask the board why they went along with Bro Morgannwg's decision to sell off the Cefn Park Clinic (see earlier story and comments).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Yes, we can have a vote on Europe: it's called a General Election.

There has been a lot of talk about both an early general election and a referendum on the July 2007 revision to European Union treaties.

For what it's worth, I believe that the Labour Party's coffers need to refill before it can consider fighting a general election. (The Conservatives are also in debt; Liberal Democrats and Plaid - with its legacy - are best placed financially at present.)

Of course, Gordon Brown can take up the explicit offers of help from some affiliated trades unions. But what would be the price of such help. Some TU officers might demand plum jobs in the next administration - Bob Crow as Minister of Technology, anyone?

If Gordon Brown does decide to hold a general election soon, there will clearly not be time to debate the July 2007 revision of the European Union treaties. This will be down to the incoming House of Commons.

Thus, an October election will effectively be a referendum on Europe.

I hope that the House will endorse the Treaty. It has been shorn of the trappings of the super-state which disfigured the draft constitution, but includes the progressive measures from that document.

In particular:

"Article 35 Voluntary withdrawal from the Union
"1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
CIG 1/07 36 EN
"2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article [III-325(3)] of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. "

At present, the treaties oblige all nations of the EU to remain within the Union. There is no legal right of exit, except by means of another treaty.

AND

"1. In order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.
2. The European Parliament shall meet in public, as shall the Council when considering and voting on a draft legislative act."

Too much of what is agreed in our name by the Prime Minister and a few other key ministers is, at present, secret.


- Frank Little

Friday, September 07, 2007

Surely, there can't be that many Tory seats left up north?

Election Results: Thursday 6th September 2007.

City of York UA, Heworth Without

LD Nigel Ayre 914 (46.7; +11.0), Con 703 (35.9; -1.8), Lab 219 (11.2; -5.8), BNP 63 (3.2; +3.2), Green 58 (3.0; -1.4), [Liberal (0.0; -5.2)].

Majority 211. Turnout 61.8%. LD gain from Con. Last fought 2007.


There seems to be a pattern emerging here! I may be wrong? What I find remarkable is the turnout at almost 62%. It is often said that the Liberal Democrats usually win By-Elections on low turnouts. Well, how does one explain this one? Equally interesting to note is the collapse of the Labour Party vote by -5.8% in an area where you would expect Labour to be gaining ground on the back of a Brown Bounce!

- Richie Northcote

Replace the Child Trust Fund


The Liberal Democrats today called for the Child Trust Fund to be scrapped, with the money instead being used to help children in the early years of their education.

The call comes on the day that the Government revealed that children will be required to study how their Child Trust Funds work.

The answer to a Parliamentary Question by the Liberal Democrats has highlighted how the fund will have no impact on inequality until 2020 at the earliest.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary David Laws MP said:

"This answer shows that even the Government admits that the money poured into the Child Trust Fund won’t make the slightest difference to inequality for well over a decade.

"The Child Trust Fund should be scrapped and the money should be used where it would really make a difference - helping youngsters in the earliest years of their education."

Heritage (2)

Linda Ware of the Welsh Nationalists opposes the demolition of a historic mill building in Neath Abbey. She writes in the Neath Guardian:

"many people now feel disheartened regarding the treatment of our heritage by Neath Port Talbot Council and its Community Councils.

"Neath is a very ancient market town and the area around Neath Abbey could be a huge tourist attraction given the attention it deserves.

"The descendants of the last Abbot of Neath Abbey, Abbott Hopkin Leyson, remain in the area today in the Hopkins family, who have farmed for generations and the Leyson family occupy an ancient house in Cadoxton, Ysys Ladd.

"The whole area from South of the Abbey at Neath to nearly Crynant in the Dulais Valley was Abbey Land. And Cwrt Herbert, the home of the Turberville family, direct descendants of the Norman Knight who was given this land by William the Conqueror.

"There is the grave of the traitor monk there, the beautiful Abbey ruins, the site of one of the earliest woollen mills in the area and, incidentally, the site of the woollen mill where the shawl of Ann Williams of Glynrhigos Farm in Cilfrew was woven from the black sheep of Llettyrafel Farm, so it retained it's blackness. This was in approximately 1740. This shawl was worn by Ann Williams when she rode from Cilfrew to Trefecca for the first Communion of the Presbyterian or Calvinistic Methodist Church in Wales where the famous Daniel Rowlands and Howel Harris preached. [...]

"we have a town destroyed by planners where people who visit remark: 'is there nothing but charity shops and building societies?' and we have to reply 'no'.

"The ancient Charter which grants Neath the privilege of holding a market produces two fruit and veg shops in the indoor market and two or three traditional butchers. The town, where remarkable history is buried in the vaults of the Antiquarian Society, instead of being brought out and made alive to give the children of the area hope and belief in themselves."

Typically of Plaid Cymru, Ms Ware's emphasis is on the historical and religious, though she does make a passing reference to Brunel (not quoted). While not denigrating the attractions of this romantic approach to visitors, I suggest that industrial history is an increasing magnet for foreign tourists. For some time, American and Japanese enthusiasts have been keen to see the birth-places of the Industrial Revolution, and it is likely that Indian and Chinese students will follow, as their own industries grow.

Neath Abbey Ironworks, as the papers in the Mechanics Institute show, was in at the birth of the railway age. The successors of these pioneers, Taylor & Sons of Briton Ferry, are, I understand, keen to develop the area as a heritage site. One hopes that the money - and it could come from a mix of sponsorships, not just council-tax payers' money - can be found to achieve this.

In the mean time, what is left of the fabric should be protected.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Data Security

California takes data security seriously, as this silicon.com report shows - why can't the UK Labour government?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Heritage



The finger-post showing where to pick up St Illtyd's Way in Crynant is picturesque, but next to useless. It's easy to miss if you don't have a map, its lettering is almost obscured, and, if it leans any further, it will bury itself in the shrubbery.

Further up the hillside, it needs an expert orienteer or a lot of trial and error to find the way across a field into woodland, where virtually all the waymarks have disappeared in a fire. The trees have survived, but loss of cover has allowed brambles and ferns to proliferate in the unaccustomed sunlight.

There are so many good walks in the county borough in need of maintenance, mainly renewing waymarks and clearing those thug plants, bracken and bramble. It's not as if it is a very expensive operation, given the willingness of volunteers - as in Dyffryn Clydach ward - to do much of the work.

And why can't there be a safe footpath down the Tennant Canal to Pant-y-Sais? It would enable visitors to the fenland boardwalk to avoid the car park and the unsavoury activities which are alleged to take place there!

- Frank Little

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Micro-generation: government not going far enough

Think-tank the New Local Government Network has called for additional incentives to be given to householders to install renewable energy equipment, over and above those which government minister Ruth Kelly is consulting over.

Friday, August 24, 2007

LibDems Gain Seat from Conservatives in Tory Heartland

Election Results: Thursday 23rd August 2007.

Suffolk CC, Thedwastre South

LD Penny Otton 927 (41.8; +7.5), Con 833 (37.5; -9.4), Green 287 (12.9; +12.9), Lab 88 (4.0; -14.8), UKIP 85 (3.8; +3.8).

Majority 94. Turnout 32.4%. LD gain from Con. Last fought 2005.

Wales is not being singled out by the BBC




Adam Price, following the lead set by the Scottish Nationalists (how often has that been said of Plaid!), has achieved some cheap publicity by accusing the BBC of ignoring stories from this nation.

However, Mr Price and Mr Salmond are wrong to see a nationalistic bias on the part of BBC. The English regions are ignored just as thoroughly. Witness the uneven treatment given to the reporting of the floods in Yorkshire and in southern counties. News coverage varies indirectly with the distance from London.

Nor is BBC Wales immune from this metropolitan bias. The south-east corner of Wales seems to have more than its fair share of news reporting.

- Frank Little

Friday, August 17, 2007

Port Talbot redevelopment - what will it mean?











The County Borough Council has invited proposals for the redevelopment of an area including Port Talbot railway station and the Plaza cinema.

The extent of the area involved seems somewhat fluid at this stage, but it may well extend to commercial properties with past local Liberal Democrat involvement ;-)

One hopes that the level crossing, a nuisance to both commercial traffic and pedestrians alike, will disappear under the preferred plans.

However, a place should be found for at least the façade of the Plaza. It is sad that neither Neath nor Port Talbot town centres can support a first-run cinema, in the face of competition from Swansea and Aberavon, but one must bow to the inevitable. However, there can be few remaining examples of the Plaza's style of architecture. Surely a place can be found for that imposing frontage in any new development? (By the way, if anyone has a copyright-free photo of the Plaza in its hey-day, we should be glad to replace the distressing present-day view - above - with it.)

Also, the opportunity must be taken to bring trains and buses under one roof in a proper transport interchange. Ideally, this would be where the present bus station is, convenient for both the Aberavon Centre and civic buildings. An additional halt could be provided to serve Taibach and Margam on Swanline trains.

Clearly, that would be an expensive proposition, but bringing the buses alongside at the present rail station site would be the next best thing.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Missing Blogs

What has happened to "A View from the Glen", "Inside Swansea" and "Swansea Phoenix"?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pipeline work drags on


Work started on crossing the Tawe valley with the Milford-terminated gas pipeline last November. Nine months later, the valley is still disfigured, favourite walks are still blocked and people attending acoustic sessions at the Pontardawe Festival this coming weekend are liable to have their enjoyment ruined by the sound of heavy plant.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tim Garden

The sad news reached us today of the death of Tim Garden, our spokesman on defence in the House of Lords, from pancreatic cancer.

To those of us campaigning for an ethical, or at least intelligent, foreign and defence policy, he was an inspiration. As his biography shows, he was no theoretician, but knew whereof he wrote and spoke.

Those who knew him personally describe him as "a good social liberal".

- Frank Little

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Who has more friends: Peter Hain, Derek Vaughan or the BNP?

Just as Virgin and Vodafone are pulling their adverts from the "look at me" website Facebook, council leader Derek Vaughan is reported by the Evening Post to have joined Neath MP Peter Hain in a bid to make friends and influence people.

Advertisers are withdrawing because their logos could appear on the same pages as the BNP.

Friday, August 03, 2007

If someone steals your credit card details, don't you want to know?

You may remember the TK Maxx scandal earlier this year, when customer details were stolen and used fraudulently. There is still no law in this country to force companies in this situation to warn their customers.

Now there is a petition to government to put this right.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Council should be more open

Neath Port Talbot council observes the national Code of Conduct regarding declaration of councillors' interests, but only on paper. The register of members' interests is accessible only during office hours at the Port Talbot civic centre, and only when an officer is free to supervise access.

We feel that our council should follow the lead set by Swansea City - on a Liberal Democrat initiative - and put the register on its web pages. This would make it available to anyone who can use a PC, wherever they live in the county borough.

The council has had poor press in recent weeks over its attitude to democracy. Putting the councillors interests register on the Web would be a small step towards improving its reputation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Skewen councillors fight to save medical facility


Coedffranc Community Council is exercised (quite rightly, in our opinion) about the potential, and needless, loss of Cefn Parc clinic.

It has until only recently been used as a maternity clinic. It has outlived its usefulness as such, but would seem to be ideal for provision of additional dental facilities, which the community badly needs.

From a Neath Guardian article: "The land that the clinic is built on was originally sold for a nominal fee to the Parish council to provide maternity facilities for the Coedffranc area in 1938.

"Until recently the site has served this purpose and documents dating back to 1938 state the site should not be used for other purposes without consent in writing from the Vendors.

"The spokeswoman said solicitors representing Bro Morgannwg Trust have told them they do not have a copy of the original conveyance."

This has not prevented the Trust from selling the building. The community council attempted to purchase it, but was outbid. Bro Morgannwg has refused to reveal the name of the purchaser. However, the Trust cannot finalise the sale because of the restrictive covenant, of which community councillors do have a copy.

It is the firm view of the Community Council that the sale should not have started until the council was consulted over any possihle change of use.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Coedffranc North, and a member of the community council, Keith Davies, said that the way in which the trust has handled this "makes them prime candidates for a review by the Director General of the Audit Commission".

Currently, the community council has approached the Welsh Assembly Government so that this contretemps between two publicly funded bodies can be resolved by them, rather than incurring high legal costs.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Resolven and Cwmgwrach flood defences

Dave Howerski tells us that the work at Cwmgwrach was completed in time to save the village from damage after the wettest June & July in British meteorological history.

Work at Resolven has not been so fortunate. It seems that every time the contractors get started, another deluge washes their work away. We fear that it is a race to complete the defences there in the next weather window before there is a "Gloucestershire" event in the Neath valley.

Friday, July 20, 2007

By-election Results

Click the button on the right for links to the details of the parliamentary by-elections. Go to Peter Black's blog spot comments for those of Swansea Llansamlet council election.

In all three, the Liberal Democrat vote rose and the Conservatives made no impact. Labour were smart to hold the Westminster by-elections during the Gordon Brown "honeymoon" period, or the results might have been worse for them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Save Bryncoch Farm


It is not only a valuable part of a green wedge, but it is also of historical interest. Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats support the campaign to save Bryncoch Farm.

John Warman, Liberal Democrat councillor for Cimla, is so concerned about the loss of green wedges in the county borough that he has resigned from the planning committee. He feels that his freedom to campaign has been held back by legal restrictions while he has been on the committee.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Richie: congratulations (I think!)

Dave Howerski being unable to continue because of demands on his resources (we hope the parachute jump in Sweden went well, Dave), Richie has agreed to resume secretarial duties, with the unanimous approval of tonight's party meeting.

- The Chairman

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Still no Ffynnon Oer money for communities


Readers of Paul Lewis's article in the Evening Post might be forgiven for believing that new money has suddenly become available for "greening" our communities' schools.

"Council officers are now thrashing out a deal to decide how the cash resulting from the 16-turbine npower development will be spent locally," he writes, no doubt from a press brief prepared by the County Borough Council.

In fact, £32,000 has been available since May 2006. Investigations by Richie Northcote in Resolven, as to what had happened to the money, started soon after. (Resolven is just one of the communities which would benefit - the others are Cymmer, Glyncorrwg and Pelenna.)

It turns out that the money is still sitting in nPower's coffers. It has doubled as from May this year, and will be added to at the rate of £32,000 on each anniversary of the establishment of the Ffynnon Oer wind-farm for the life of the installation.

All that was needed to access the money was for Neath Port Talbot CBC to set up a suitable financial vehicle, such as a trust. Planning for this could have started at the time planning permission for the wind farm was granted. Schools and other community facilities could have benefited from Day One.

Instead, on the council's own admission, they are still discussing the form of the trust.

We applaud the ideas outlined in the article, and welcome the call for further suggestions from the communities, but condemn the fifteen month wait, and the continuing delay.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Liberal Democrats to cut 4p off Income Tax!

Radical tax plans that will take the basic rate of income tax to its lowest level since 1916 were unveiled today by the Liberal Democrats.

The move to cut the basic rate by four pence in the pound will reduce the basic rate of income tax to 16p, benefiting millions of people on low and middle incomes.

The plans are a development of those approved by the party conference last year and form part of the party's proposals to lift the tax burden on low and middle income earners whilst making the rich and people with environmentally damaging lifestyles pay a fairer share.

The revised proposals are tax neutral and have been independently evaluated by the IFS.

The proposals launched in the document Reducing the Burden: Policies for tax reform include:

* Reaffirming the commitment to abolishing Council Tax, replacing it with a tax based on ability to pay

* Removing tax loop-holes exploited by the super-rich

* Radically simplifying the tax code, removing over 500 pages of unnecessary regulations

* Reforming stamp duty to reduce the amount of tax paid on properties worth less than £500,000

* Reforming Inheritance Tax, with the aim of raising the starting threshold to £500,000

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader Ming Campbell said "Our new proposals will put fairness at the heart of the tax system. Low and middle income earners in this country shoulder too heavy a tax burden. By cutting the basic rate of national income tax by four pence in the pound the Liberal Democrats are proposing the lowest basic rate since 1916. By reforming stamp duty and inheritance tax we will ensure that people who were not originally intended to pay these taxes no longer do so. The unacceptable reality is that in Britain today the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the super-rich. Under our proposals tax cuts for the majority will be paid for by the wealthy minority, as well as those with environmentally damaging lifestyles. Only the Liberal Democrats have produced a costed plan to create a tax system that is fair, simple and green. I challenge Gordon Brown and David Cameron to back up their rhetoric by endorsing our plans."

Commenting further, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable MP said "This paper takes forward, in a more radical form, the proposals we passed at our conference last year. Those on low and middle incomes will benefit from a cut in the basic national rate, and from the scrapping of council tax. The national tax cuts will be paid for by abolishing the capital gains tax break, which allows the very rich to pay a lower tax rate than the person who cleans their office, as well as only providing tax relief for pensions at the standard rate; and raising taxes on polluters. Taken in conjunction with the abolition of council tax, these policies benefit the vast majority of families."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sedgefield - The One to Watch

Liberal England has a very interesting and plausible analysis on the current by-election fever sweeping through Ealing and Sedgefield. Whilst Labour and the Tories are fighting each other intensely in Ealing Southall over which councillor will defect, to whom, next. The Liberal Democrats are catching up fast in Sedgefield by campaigning on the local issues that matter to local people. Labour and the Tories can continue to play their powerbroking nonsense games, but what will really be on the minds of the electorate, on thursday, is who has been campaigning on the issues that matter.

Below is an extract from his blog article:

As I said on 18 Doughty Street the other night (hem, hem), when MPs resign to take highly paid jobs elsewhere, their party often does very badly in the ensuing by-election.

I also said that Tony Blair sometimes treated his constituency as no more than a film set - rushing up to Trimdon to announce he was going to stand down as prime minister and then resigning as its MP as soon as he had.

So maybe we should be watching the result in Sedgefield more closely. Up till now, this contest has been rather overshadowed by the defections and similar malarkey in Ealing Southall.

Certainly, Paul Routledge thinks so. He writes in today's Mirror:

The Tories, a poor second in 2005, are nowhere. But the Liberal Democrats are closing the gap rapidly on Labour.



- Richie Northcote

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ealing Southall By-Election Watch


This is how the local media in Ealing Southall are reporting the by-election campaign. With the Tories out of the running it can mean only one thing.....couldn't it? - A Lib Dem victory? Maybe.

BUT, i'm not going to count any chickens yet, there's a week to go and things might change. Its going to be an interesting week ahead, on the same day (19th July) there is also a further parliamentary by-election in Sedgefield and a local by-election in the Llansamlet Ward of Swansea.

Good Luck Ealing, Sedgefield and Swansea Liberal Democrats from your Aberavon and Neath colleagues!

- Richie Northcote

Ming Campbell - "Rattling the Cage of British Politics"

Ming Campbell has promised that the Liberal Democrats would be “rattling the cage of British politics and challenging the cosy consensus” between Labour and the Conservatives, exposing the government on issues such as BAE, freedom of information and the erosion of civil liberties.

He said the party will “campaign constantly on behalf of all those betrayed by this government over the past decade – those without proper housing or healthcare.”

You can listen to Ming’s speech on YouTube (part 1 here, part 2 here).

Monday, July 09, 2007

Traffic Management Needed in Aberavon



I feel that I must comment on the, ever worsening, traffic situation created by the installation of traffic lights where Beach Hill used to be. Instead of a hill, we've now got a cross roads with a three way set of traffic lights. Further on roughly 200 metres is another set of traffic lights, at the cross roads of Hospital Rd/ Newbridge Road & Victoria road. Recently, these traffic lights have also become a three way set of lights.

Prior to Beach hill being taken down, traffic could move smoothly between Yscuthan Road and Victoria road via beach hill, there is now traffic backing up along both Yscuthan Road and Victoria Road as a result.


A simple solution would be to co-ordinate these lights. The lights at the Yscuthan road could be green when the lights at Victoria Road go green for traffic to go to the beach, likewise coming back from the beach.



- Jean Bellingham (Local Resident)

**UPDATE**

The Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats are in the process of lobbying Neath Port Talbot Council in a bid to co-ordinate these lights to ease congestion along the affected routes.

How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

40%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Online Dating



Well apparently, I am only 40% Nerd!

- Richie Northcote

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Neuro-surgery and nurses

We now know that there will be a Labour-Plaid coalition*. However, even if this agreement had not been reached, there are already two
good reasons for the electorate not to have given Labour an overall majority.

The Assembly government agreed to pay the nurses pay award in full, without staging, as has been done in Scotland. Edwina Hart said that this was a principled decision, and drew attention to her trade union roots. Yet, as pronouncements by Rhodri Morgan showed, there is little doubt that Wales would have followed the English example if Labour had been able to govern alone.

Neuro-surgery in Swansea has been saved. (And to those consultants who claim that Wales cannot afford more than one neuro-surgery unit, may I suggest that the Cardiff one be shut down? Cardiff and Newport can easily be served by Bristol.)

- Frank Little

*Plaid's special conference agreed to share power by 225 votes to 18, or 92%.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Roger Williams new spokesman for Wales

It's good to see a Welshman in this post. The Conservatives are sticking with their English MP - obviously their Welshman does not fit the Cameron pattern for the pastel blue-greens.

Congratulations to Lembit Öpik on his new position, too. Further details and the views of Mike German are here.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

New job for Wales Governor-General

Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Secretary of State for Wales, has been relieved of the Northern Ireland brief, and been promoted to be Minister of Work and Pensions. He has criticised us for wanting to reform the wasteful New Deal programme. However, he now finds himself in charge of the run-down of local Job Centres, part of the Treasury's desperate scramble to fill the so-called "black hole" in government finances. Will he attempt to reverse this?

Incidentally, an unkind Scottish colleague suggested that Quentin Davies (about whom Guido Fawkes is scathing) should become the Welsh Secretary in view of "his history of sheep abuse".

On the subject of Tories crossing the floor to New Labour, Shaun Woodward has been given the Northern Ireland brief which Paddy Ashdown turned down, showing how peripheral this job has become and thus vindicating Paddy's decision.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Liberal Democrats launch NHS SOS website


As part of their major summer campaign on the NHS, the Liberal Democrats have launched a new website - www.nhssos.com

The site includes details of the Liberal Democrats 3-step plan to improve the NHS, local campaign news from around the country and an on line petition which people can sign.

Ming Campbell said, "I know from my own experience just how important the NHS is, and how hard nurses, doctors and other staff work.

"But by trying to control every detail of what goes on in the NHS the Labour Government has wasted money and caused a massive wave of cuts."

Country Needs a Change of Direction, Not Just a Change at the Top: Campbell


Leader of the Liberal Democrats Menzies Campbell said that the country needed a change in direction not just a change in personnel at the top.

Launching an attack on the last ten years of Blair-Brown, Menzies Campbell said that Gordon Brown can not distance himself from the last ten years because his fingerprints are at the scene of the crime. He said that the vast majority of people had been let down over the last 10 years. Since 1997:

* Children from poorer backgrounds are doing worse

* Students are saddled with mortgage-style debts

* The poorest are paying a higher proportion of tax than the richest

* Only one in every hundred crimes in this country is punished in court

Speaking as Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, Menzies Campbell said:

"Gordon Brown cannot escape the last ten years. Labour's failures are his failures too.

"This is the man who has signed the cheques for the Iraq war and who raised taxes for the poorest and lowered them for the richest.

"Britain needs a change in direction not just a change at the top."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Applause for Glyn Davies

Peter Black's appreciation of Glyn Davies is understandable. His unspun, common-sense, view of the political process is an antidote to the opposite attitude of New Labour and of his current leader in Westminster.

Yesterday, on BBC-2 Wales's AM.PM, he identified Ming Campbell's interrogation of the Prime Minister over the alleged BAE payments to a Saudi prince as the most serious questions of the session. There was hardly any reaction in the chamber, apart from some restlessness. Then there was almost palpable relief as MPs reverted, as Mr Davies said, to "their usual knockabout".

Mind you, he did reveal his true colours when he confessed that he wished the Liberal Democrats would disappear altogether ...

- Frank Little

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Peter Hain Supports Replacement Nuclear Power Station on Anglesey


Peter Hain has backed the plan for a replacement nuclear power station on Anglesey.



Below is the Hansard extract whilst being questioned by Liberal Democrat Shadow Welsh Secretary.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

"While I welcome tidal energy in the Severn estuary, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is enough tidal power off the north Wales coast to offset the need for a replacement nuclear power station in Anglesey? However, given that all bar one of the Labour deputy leadership candidates said on "Newsnight" that they support more nuclear power stations, including the right hon. Gentleman, how can anyone seriously believe that the second nuclear consultation is not destined to be as big a sham as the first?"


Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office)

"It is not a sham. I have always made it clear that if a nuclear new-build is necessary in order to keep the lights on, it would be irresponsible to rule that out. As the hon. Gentleman knows, no one is more enthusiastic about clean, green renewable energy than me. Indeed, I often have scraps with Liberal Democrats about wind farms and other sources of clean, green energy, because they are in favour of green energy in principle, but in practice differences can arise. However, I think that we can work together to make sure that Wales benefits from all forms of energy. Sometimes there is a demand for a replacement nuclear power station. That is the case in Anglesey. The local council and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) support a replacement of the existing nuclear power station, and they deserve to be supported."

Click HERE to see the full debate

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Skewen station

The reports of hooliganism at Skewen station bring home how little regard is paid to this vital facility.

We have previously drawn attention to the state of the road bridge and to the lack of passenger information (the speaker system has long since been vandalised). Llansamlet station, just along the line, has a volunteer manager and more facilities. Why not Skewen? Do Network Rail and the council see it as an embarrassment?

21 teachers to be made redundant in Neath and Port Talbot

The price for keeping our schools open is now revealed by the Evening Post.

It is to be hoped that the county borough is not to lose the services of its most experienced and qualified teachers.

Are you affected by these changes? Please let us know, if so.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More Dental Pain

Yet again, it is being reported in the Neath Port Talbot Guardian that there is no end to the dental crisis in Wales, with patients living within the Borough having to travel as far as the Rhondda Valley for NHS dental treatment.

The article goes on to say that remarkably:

"None of the 17 dental practices in the borough are taking on NHS patients while an advert in the Guardian last week promoted NHS places available in Ferndale and Treorchy."

Aberavon AM, and Health Minister, Dr Brian Gibbons has recently said,

"We have already started to see a rise in the number of NHS dental places available thanks to the Personal Dental Services Scheme."

Where? We ask. Certainly not in Neath or Aberavon.

The Liberal Democrat approach would be to:

Focus on increasing the use of mobile dentists to serve the most rural areas and more salaried dentists to serve areas of particular shortage. Alongside this we will expand the use of dental hygienists and therapists, who are trained to do much of the routine work currently done by dentists, increasing the number of training places.

Reform the Welsh Dental Initiative to provide capital grants for dentists wishing to set up practices in rural areas. We will also employ salaried dentists to do school check-ups and focus on dental health and prevention at primary school level and at playgroups and nurseries, building on the Community Dental Service.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Manifesto 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lib Dem Action Plan to Save the Post Office Network


We are the only party to have a costed a credible set of proposals to keep post offices open and, where necessary, to open others. Our opponents have no such policy.

Our plan keeps the Post Office Ltd in the public sector and enables Royal Mail employees to get a share in their company through a radical employee share ownership Trust, similar to the John Lewis Partnership. Royal Mail will take a new ownership model, with the sale of some of its shares providing the investment needed by our post offices.



The Liberal Democrat plan would enable us to –
  • Open new post office branches where they are needed

  • Keep the Post Office in the public sector

  • Make the Royal Mail into a successful company, with new investment freedoms

  • Give Royal Mail staff a guaranteed stake in their company through employee share holding and participation

  • Protect and improve the service to customers that provides a daily delivery at a uniform price across the country

You can find out about the proposals in more details by reading our background paper on the policy.

Why the Lib Dem plan is the right thing for Royal Mail as well as the Post Office

The Royal Mail has been starved of investment by successive governments and needs at least £2 billion to invest in automation to remain competitive. Royal Mail now faces full competition as its centuries old monopoly on the delivery of mail was ended on 1st January 2006. It is facing massive competition from well financed competitors. Doing nothing would see the Royal Mail wither on the vine, putting at risk many services, including the Universal Service Obligation (the guaranteed daily delivery at a uniform price throughout the country) which so many communities rely on.

Our proposals would create a new ownership model for Royal Mail which would allow it to borrow to invest without it having to compete with schools and hospitals as it is no longer wholly owned by the public sector. (This is because publicly owned bodies have to have government permission to borrow.) Our proposals will enable Royal Mail to become a great British company free to improve its own business services, fight off foreign competition and win markets abroad.

The employee shareholding scheme would benefit future Royal Mail employees not just current ones. It would not be a one off hand out to people who happen to be working for Royal Mail at the time of change of ownership. Rather the employees' shares would go into a trust for the benefit of those working for Royal Mail. When an employee leaves the company, that person will no longer be entitled to any dividend. A new employee, however, would become a partner in the company and would be entitled to receive a dividend from the trust. The model is similar to that operated by the John Lewis Partnership. In addition to the trust, we would establish a system of employee participation so that staff are involved in the running of the company. Again, this would be similar to the John Lewis Partnership model.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Three Ferrets in a Sack


That was the delightful description by Roger Roberts (and he was in favour!) of the possible Plaid-Tory-LibDem coalition at today's special members conference at Llandrindod Wells. The conference agreed that it was a bold step, but voted 125-77 in favour of the proposition that "Conference endorses the proposals in Working Together for Wales as the basis for forming the government in the National Assembly".

Supporters pointed to the successful operation of "rainbow coalitions" in Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff and Wrexham. The working document (The All-Wales Accord) contained about 75% LibDem policies and that this was the best chance we had of putting them into effect. STV elections for local government and smaller class sizes were valuable prizes to be gained.

Many felt we should respond to the electorate, who had largely rejected Labour - only 32% of the vote - and who were looking to the other parties to come together to provide stable government.

To those of us who were concerned that the Plaid policies which had been introduced were uncosted, Mike German promised that a positive vote would enable him to go to the civil service to refine the cost estimates. There had not been time to do this on the tight time-scale of the selection of a new First Minister.

There were no illusions that the coalition would be easy, but the Accord was in the nature of a contract which could be enforced on AMs of the member parties.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tony Blair "hell-bent" on more nuclear power


Exchange in the House of Commons yesterday:

Sir Menzies Campbell:
"Can the Prime Minister explain why in his manifestos of 1997, 2001 and 2005, he did not seek a mandate for a new generation of nuclear power stations? Why is he so hell-bent on nuclear power now?"

Tony Blair: "We are going to go from a situation, as my right honourable friend [Alistair Darling] will explain today where we are 80%-90% self-sufficient in oil and gas - that is going to decline completely in relation to gas, largely in relation to oil.
We are also going to have a situation where a lot of the fleet of power stations becomes obsolete and our nuclear power stations become obsolete.
Now, if we want to have secure energy supplies and reduce CO2 emissions we have got to put the issue of nuclear power on the agenda.
If people are not prepared to do that, then I would like them to explain how we are going to manage to reduce that self-sufficiency, dramatically as I describe, how we are going to be able through wind-power or renewables to make up the huge deficit that nuclear power is going to leave and if we are about serious policy-making I'm afraid we have got to confront and take decisions on these issues."

Sir Menzies:
"Very clearly, in the Cabinet Office Review of 2003.
Why is it that the Prime Minister is so committed to nuclear power in a way which suggests he disregards the issue of risk and cost and toxic waste?
Where is the investment in wave, wind, and tidal power, and clean coal technology that would give us a secure, non-nuclear, future?"

Tony Blair:
"Look, first of all, we are boosting renewable energy significantly.
But let's be absolutely clear about this; we are not going to be able to make up through wind farms all the deficit on nuclear power, we're just not going to be able to do it.
And in addition to that, we have had nuclear power in this country for over half a century without the problems that the honourable gentleman draws attention to.
And I also urge him to look round the world, and he will see that at this present time, I think I am right in saying, there are something like 70 to 80 new proposals for nuclear power stations, and that is for a perfectly sensible reason, that every country round the world is looking at these two problems: securing energy supply, with sufficient diversity; and reducing CO2 emissions.
And the reason why we should look at nuclear power as an option here is because if we don't do that, we are simply, for reasons, in my view, of ideology, putting it to one side when plainly round the world many others are coming to the opposite conclusion."

Analysing that answer:

we are boosting renewable energy significantly
See earlier blog entry about the cuts in government grants in two key areas.

Giving aid to multi-national companies to set up wind farms is not a big boost to renewable energy.

we are not going to be able to make up through wind farms all the deficit
(admitting that this "one-club" approach is inadequate).

He fails to address the points about wave and tidal power, and clean coal technology, all of which have been shown to be more productive than wind generators. The answer must be that the Westminster government has done nothing about these.
Sadly, news has come through that a Scottish carbon-capture scheme, proposed by BP, has been abandoned. Is this because there is no longer a LibDem minister in Scotland to push it through?

we have had nuclear power in this country for over half a century without the problems that the honourable gentleman draws attention to
Maybe Tony Blair is too young to remember when Windscale (now Sellafield) blew its stack, but he must have been aware of the discovery of the Dounreay "drain". The aggravating problem of storage of waste must also have come to his attention. Until the government has the guts to publish a strategy for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, which is still piling up, it cannot be deemed fit to start another nuclear programme.

round the world many others are coming to the opposite conclusion
So we must keep up with the Jones? (Or rather, Patels and Kims.)

securing energy supply
Does he not realise that nuclear fuel has to be imported, and that we are not self-sufficient in the raw material? That there is logic in India, and even Iran, which do have uranium ore, developing their own nuclear generating capacity, while we would be making ourselves dependent on other countries? That is before the difficulties of transporting the fuel are considered.

"Hell-bent" and "committed" just about sum the Prime Minister up. In this he is just as obstinate and unable to listen to reasoned argument as Mrs Thatcher.