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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Labour and the Conservatives – in alliance over shameful vote on secrecy

Welsh Liberal Democrats in Neath Port Talbot have slammed Labour and Conservative MPs for voting for a change to the law to remove the public’s right to see MPs’ travel and expenses claims.

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, introduced by the Conservative MP David Maclean, would remove any obligation for MPs' expenses to be made public. It would also stop people from finding out what their Member of Parliament has said to other public bodies.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats have welcomed the launch of a national petition by Liberal Democrat Leader Menzies Campbell against the proposals to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information rules. The petition calls on all political parties to back the campaign to stop the change going through.

Below is a message from The Leader of The Liberal Democrats,
Sir Menzies Campbell OBE:

Dear Supporter,

I am shocked that the Labour and Conservative front benches in the Commons have joined forces to vote for a special exemption for MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. This brings Parliament into disrepute.

Liberal Democrats have led the opposition on the floor of the House of Commons and I have decided to launch a national petition so voters can show to the House of Lords (who debate the bill next), Gordon Brown and David Cameron how they feel.

Please visit to sign our petition and lobby a member of the House of Lords. Please also forward this email to your friends and colleagues.

Thank you for your support.

With best wishes
Sir Menzies Campbell
Liberal Democrats

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pay people for the power they provide!

Donnachadh McCarthy is a micro-generator, green consultant and former Liberal Democrat federal executive member. In 1997, before it was fashionable, he installed solar panels on his South London roof. (Though the illustrations are of local solar heating and generating installations.) He has since added an experimental wind-turbine.

He calculates that he will never have to pay for energy again and is even able to recoup some of the cost through a deal with EDF Energy. Donnachadh receives from them 7p per unit for electricity generated which he does not use. Thus, he was able to bill them for £45 last year. At the retail price of 11p, he reckons to have made a further saving of £55 annually.

However, he paid over £13,000 for his solar panels and wind-turbine. Even with a government grant, he reckons that it will take between 90 and 120 years for him to pay back the capital cost of the system.

Some UK energy companies will pay the full market price for micro-generated electricity, but charge the customer for the installation of the export meter. This could be £100 or more.

The German government compels its energy companies to buy back from consumers at a far more generous rate. That could account for the fact that there are over 300,000 installations of solar panels generating electricity in Germany. The UK equivalent is 5,000.

The Labour MP (and at one time a challenger for the deputy leadership of his party) Alan Simpson chaired a recent symposium at Westminster. Simpson is an enthusiastic micro-generator, but only receives 40% of the market price for his exported electricity. German customers get four times the market price. Simpson calls for a similar deal for UK consumers, guaranteed over twenty years.

The capital cost of solar panels has come down. However, the UK government grant has come down even more. The maximum is now £2,500, whereas it was previously, in practice, £7,000. (See table below.)

The government defends its policy, saying that more households will be able to benefit from the lower grant. It also calculates that subsidising households as the Germans do will cost £380m annually.

However, our Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, Susan Kramer commented:

“This announcement means fewer people will be able to afford to generate their own electricity.

“This will have a knock-on effect on the industries servicing green energy. Even before this announcement, the mishandling of these grants has caused redundancies. This announcement will mean businesses withdrawing from the sector and further redundancies.

“The Budget announced an extra £6million for the Low Buildings Carbon Programme. Given that the cuts in grants will no doubt lead to reduced take-up, how exactly will this extra money be spent?”

TechnologyPrevious maximum grantNew maximum grant
Solar Photovoltaics£15,000£2,500
Wind Turbines£5,000£2,500
Small Hydro£5,000£2,500
Solar Thermal Hot Water£400£400
Ground Source Heat Pumps£1,200£1,200
Automated Wood Pellet
Fed Room Heaters/Stoves
Wood Fuelled Boiler Systems£1,500£1,500

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Abominable. Loyal, Blind, Apparently Subservient"

Those were the comments of Ex-President Carter this evening, whilst describing Blairs relationship with Bush, on BBC radio.

The article below has just been released by Reuters and makes interesting reading. I doubt any of it will appear in the "Blair Memoirs"

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter blasted George W. Bush's presidency as "the worst in history" in international relations and condemned Prime Minister Tony Blair for his loyal relationship with Bush in interviews released on Saturday.

"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said in a telephone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from the Carter Centre in Atlanta.

"The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me," Carter told the newspaper.

In an interview on BBC radio, Carter slammed Blair for his tight relations with Bush, particularly concerning the Iraq war.

"Abominable. Loyal, blind, apparently subservient," Carter said when asked how he would characterise Blair's relationship with Bush.

"I think that the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world," Carter said.

Carter, who was U.S. president from 1977-1981 and won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his charitable work, was an outspoken opponent of the invasion of Iraq before it was launched in 2003.

In the newspaper interview, Carter said Bush has taken a "radical departure from all previous administration policies" with the Iraq war.

"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," Carter said.

The White House declined to comment on his statements.

Carter told the BBC that if Blair had opposed the invasion he could have reduced the ensuing harm by making it tougher for Washington to shrug off critics, even if the prime minister had not been able to stop the war.

"It would certainly have assuaged the problems that have (arisen) lately," Carter said.

"One of the defences of the Bush administration in America and worldwide ... has been: 'Okay, we must be more correct in our actions than the world thinks because Great Britain is backing us,'" Carter said.

"I think the combination of Bush and Blair giving their support to this tragedy in Iraq has strengthened the effort and has made opposition less effective and has prolonged the war and increased the tragedy that has resulted," he told the BBC.

Blair, who made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday, has said he will step down in June. His Labour Party has named his long-serving finance minister, Gordon Brown, to succeed him.

Brown was a member of the Cabinet that voted in favour of the war, but has said mistakes were made in Iraq and he will review policy there.

In the newspaper interview, Carter, who brokered the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, also criticised Bush's Middle East policies.

"For the first time since Israel was founded, we've had zero peace talks to try to bring a resolution of differences in the Middle East. That's a radical departure from the past," Carter said.

Government Business is key to Post Office Survival

Business from the government is the key to the survival of post offices Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer has said.

Speaking in response to a statement in which the government announced the closure of 2500 post offices Ms Kramer, who is Lib Dem Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, challenged the government to give assurance that no more government business would be withdrawn from the Post Office.

Ms Kramer called on the government to explain their contingency plans in the event that the Post Office failed to win the tender for the Post Office card account. She also criticised the government’s plan to abolish the post office watchdog Postwatch, leaving consumers with little support when fighting local post office closures.

You can read Susan Kramer’s full speech here

Visit the BBC Action Website to see what YOU can do about the proposed Post Office Closures.

**UPDATE - 20 May 07**

I have just received the Official Closure Statistics between 1999 and 2006. During this period a total of 4101 Post Offices have closed across the United Kingdom. 20 of these closures have been within Neath and Port Talbot County Borough. These statistics DO NOT include the latest closures of a further 2,500 Post Offices recently announced by the Government.

-Richie Northcote

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rainbow Coalition

It is hard to see where the general agreement Mike German was so hopeful of, in his statement to "Waterfront" tonight, is going to come from. We and Plaid agree that Wales should have more powers, that there should be a fair voting system at all levels of government, and that council tax should go. The Conservatives are against the latter two and speak with many voices on the first.

The rediscovery by the Conservatives (in opposition, be it noted) of their belief in the freedom of the individual and of devolving power to town halls brings them into line with ourselves, but how will that chime with the authoritarian socialist strand in Plaid?

One can guarantee that not all Plaid, and not all Conservative, AMs will go along with such a coalition. Unlike the coalition with Labour, whose party discipline is well-known, the "rainbow" is likely to be fissile during its run as well.

The impression being given to the public is of a fight over ministerial seats rather than putting into place the policies which Wales voted for.

As still the largest party, Labour has first option on power in the Senedd. It is not essential that it go into coalition with anyone, though it obviously needs reassurance that it is not going to be voted down every week.

One does not even have to go as far as New Zealand to see this strategy in operation. In many local authorities, including at least one in Wales, there is a minority administration.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cilfrew gas-transfer station

The planning and development committee, forced by judicial review to re-consider its decision on this matter, has again rejected the, in our view, reasonable objections of the residents to the siting of this plant.

More details when we get them.

- Frank Little

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The True Cost of ID Cards

Not only was it a convenient time for the Government to release the news of the spiralling cost of the ID Card Scheme (The day of the Prime Ministers resignation) they also attempted to "Spin" the true cost. Luckily, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg, and his team uncovered the true cost of the scheme by scrutinising the ID Card Cost Report - as the extract from the article below, published on Home Office Watch, shows:

Over the next 10 years, ID cards will cost £5.55bn. That’s up from an estimate of £5.4bn six months ago - but they also reveal today that, whoops, they got the numbers wrong in October and at that point the cost was just £4.9bn. So that’s a 13% cost increase, an extra £640m in total, pushing the total cost of an ID card for Joe Citizen to over £100.

And the icing on the cake?

The Home Office has been spinning all day that the costs are really only £5.3bn. If you read the full cost report, this is the cost noted in table 3, which is something along the lines of “how much ID cards would have cost last October, if changes we’ve made to the scheme since then had been incorporated”. Also known as “a completely pointless piece of information we’ve included to make things look less bad.”

Since the Advertising Standards Authority have ruled that the following advert is not offensive to the Prime Minister, I thought it fitting to publish it here. In a lighthearted approach to the whole ID Card fiasco.

-Richie Northcote

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Foster Parents in Wales

In a rather poorly advertised consultation by the Welsh Assembly Government, some 35 foster parents replied to the consultation, either singularly or as a couple. Some interesting statistics show that there are some 1,949 foster parents in Wales, so between 2% to 3.5% of the foster parents in Wales contributed to this consultation on Foster Parents Allowances.

In total, a further 20 agencies contributed to this consultation. Be they Local Authorities or private fostering agencies. It is to their advantage to keep this allowance as low as possible.

While in the original consultation, there are some 1,200 children in care who aren't with foster parents, and some 3,200 who are looked after by Foster Parents. I suggest that WAG should look at how much it cost each of the 22 local authorities to look after each of these 1,200 children?

The Small Fortunes table for the cost of bringing up a child, weekly rates vary from £78 to £98 per week per child depending on age. The monetary value of the allowances each foster parent get for a child varies from £114 to around £150 per week. I very much feel that this is on the conservative side.

My first recommendation would be to establish the costs per child of keeping a child in Local Authority Care. My second recommendations to the consultation is that the minimum amount per child should be £14,000 per year, and again this would be cheap compared to the cost of keeping a child in Local Authority Care.

Visit the following links to the relevant sections of both the Welsh Assembly Government and Neath Port Talbot CBC Websites for further information.

--Gary Lewis

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Its Not All Bad!

Our performance in the Welsh Assembly elections is hardly going to set the world on fire, that much we are all agreed upon. However, it actually provides us with the opportunity to take stock, evaluate and move on to pastures new.

By this, I mean we need a new direction. We need to communicate our message to the electorate in a more cohesive manner. Our campaign concentrated on delivering tabloid style newspapers that were predominantly negative in their nature and presented little of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. If we are going to succeed in the future we need to communicate our message to the people of Aberavon and Neath not just highlight the failings of the Government (which are far too many to mention here).

Its not all bad news however, not only did we thoroughly enjoy the campaign but we also managed to substantially increase our membership. Several new members, within Neath and Aberavon, were recruited during this campaign.

We held our own in Neath against the predicted Plaid surge and a resurgent Conservative Party thanks to Sheila Waye and her campaign team. We almost won Newport East from Labour and we have moved up to second place in numerous constituencies across Wales. The best news for Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats is that we now have a more solid grounding, than ever before, to contest the local elections next year.

Furthermore, I wish to add congratulations to Peter Black AM, Lib Dem AM for South Wales West, who was re-elected to the Assembly. Peter Black is probably one of the hardest working AM in the Assembly. I'm not just saying that because I am a Liberal Democrat - judge for yourself.

Visit to see for yourself.

--Richie Northcote

Friday, May 04, 2007

First thoughts on thepoll

Well, the turnout was up about 4% in both constituencies, but still less than the figures recorded in the first Assembly election (46.8% in Aberavon, 47.9% in Neath).

Our vote yesterday increased in both constituencies, as compared with the 2003 result. Thanks to all the people who put in work delivering our message, without whom we might even have slipped back.

Congratulations to Plaid on their well-run campaign which enabled them to recover all the votes lost in their plunge in 2003. Congratulations, too, to Gwenda Thomas in holding on to the Neath seat in the face of the Plaid surge and the general unpopularity of the Labour Party throughout Wales.

The Conservatives seem to have shaken off that mantle to make a modest recovery.
However, the general election will tell a different story.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Polling Day

Eighty-five per cent of the French electorate turned out in the first round of their presidential election. That must be too much to hope for in the Welsh general election, but, given the good weather, there is no excuse for not bettering the poor turnout of 2003 - 37.4% in Aberavon, 39.1% in Neath. So, c'mon, pass judgment on your politicians!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Post Office closures

Odd that the Evening Post should publish Claire Waller's release about PO closures over the last seven years in Aberavon (for which we are, of course, grateful), but make no mention of Sheila Waye's comments on the proportionately larger culling (ten out of forty-two post offices) in Neath.

Could it be that the Neath press release reminded people that the Conservatives closed 3500 post offices while they were in power, and the Aberavon one didn't?

The Blair legacy

On the day before the PM is presumed to announce the timetable of his departure, the Independent newspaper publishes an opinion poll suggesting that he will most be remembered for Iraq - 69% of respondents put that at the top of the list.

9% would remember his relationship with George Bush. The first positive aspect of his tenure, the Northern Ireland peace process, comes in next at 6%. Then came cash-for-honours, the minimum wage and "spin", all at 3%.

I think that history will be somewhat kinder to Blair, and recall one or two reforms that the poll respondents did not. In social matters, for instance, the introduction of civil partnerships and amelioration of the laws on homosexuality. On his watch, the Bank of England was given the freedom to set interest rates and a better Freedom of Information Act was introduced (though the government is now trying to back-track on the latter).

On the other side, respondents did not register his botched Lords reform, shilly-shallying over hunting with hounds or his reneging on the promise to consider electoral reform. History will probably forget about these, too.

Strangely, 61% thought he had been a good PM and only 2% had no opinion.
- Frank Little