Sunday, October 23, 2011

Welsh government kills high-value jobs prospects for bay area

South Wales West Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Peter Black has written to the Welsh Government’s Business and Enterprise Minister, Edwina Hart seeking an explanation after a potential investment that would have brought 100 high value jobs to the Swansea area was lost following her decision to end a research-based funding scheme without proper consultation.

Mr. Black has raised with the Minister reports in this morning’s press that the her decision to end European funding to University of Wales’ POWIS scholarships without putting any alternative scheme in place has led directly to a proposal to establish an IT development centre, which could have created up to 100 jobs in the Swansea area, being withdrawn.

The Western Mail reports that New Zealand-based software development company Pingar had been planning to set up a Centre for Knowledge Engineering here, but that it is now likely to choose the east of England instead.

John Beer, who was responsible for the project and who is himself a POWIS scholar is quoted as saying that there was a “lack of transparency” over the end of the POWIS scheme and that companies that had benefited from the project had learnt about its demise through the media rather than from government.

In his letter, Mr. Black asks the Minister to outline what contact her officials have had with this company and what communication the Welsh Government had with companies benefiting from POWIS about the decision to end funding. He asks how the Minister reassured these companies about funding for future research?

“From an outsider’s viewpoint it certainly seems to be the case that Mr. Beer’s suggestion that the future of collaboration has been wiped out in one fell swoop is correct,” said Mr. Black. “I am very concerned that the Swansea area is potentially losing one hundred much-needed high value jobs and I want to know what contact Welsh Government officials have had with this company to persuade them to change their mind.

“I am not questioning the assertion by Ministers that there were problems with the way that European funding was being used, they are in a better position to judge that than me. However, the way that the decision was put into effect has impacted upon a number of businesses and the future prosperity of Wales. The Minister needs to say when an alternative scheme will be up-and-running to address this imbalance.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peter Black encourages Neath and Port Talbot residents to take back control of their energy bills

South Wales West Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Peter Black has teamed up with the Energy Saving Trust on behalf of his constituents in Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend that the average home in Wales can save up to £280 a year by being energy efficient.

He says that with the cost of energy bills on the rise there’s no better time than now for householders to take back control of their bills. He urged householders to take advantage of Energy Saving Week between 24th and 28th October 2011 to learn more about the options available to them.

As people in Wales face ever increasing energy bills, Mr. Black was informed that everyday items such as TVs and computers are responsible for a staggering 34 per cent of the UK’s carbon production.

He was shown a number of nifty gadgets which can make day-to-day life easier whilst helping to reduce bills. One such item was the Eco Kettle. If everybody in the UK switched to an Energy Saving Trust Recommended kettle, then £270million in electricity could be saved annually.

He was told that other household swaps like switching traditional bulbs for new, energy efficient ones can also make a huge difference. Newer style Energy Saving Trust Recommended bulbs last ten times longer than their predecessor and cost just £2 each, meaning a substantial saving of between £45 and £70 over its lifetime.

Duncan McCombie, Energy Saving Trust director of operations for Wales, said: “It’s been a pleasure to team up with Peter Black for Energy Saving Week.

“Just a few small changes to day-to-day life can have a profound impact on the amount of energy being consumed and the carbon being produced as a nation. Energy saving works best when it doesn’t mean huge lifestyle changes. We are all suffering from increasingly hectic lifestyles, and this Energy Saving Week we’re really pushing the concept that changes needn’t be difficult in order to take control of your bills.”

Mr. Black added: “We are all responsible for contributing to reducing Wales’ carbon footprint. The cash savings that could go hand in hand with cutting energy use in households, means in these economic times, that there’s never been a more prudent time to take up these tips.

“I’d urge people across South Wales West to use Energy Saving Week as a kick-start to following a few simple changes in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in their area.”

This Energy Saving Week the Energy Saving Trust is offering householders in Wales the chance to win five top energy saving gadgets and an in-home visit from the ‘Energy Doctor’ who will help identify ways in which the winning home could save money on energy bills. To enter the competition please visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/wales

For more top tips on energy saving go to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welsh Government is failing to deal with housing crisis says Assembly Member


The Welsh Liberal Democrats Housing Spokesperson, Peter Black has called on the Welsh Government to do more to tackle the housing crisis facing Wales.

Speaking at the his party’s autumn conference in Wrexham, Mr. Black said too many people are struggling to get a home of their own.

“The House Builders Federation estimates that there are 100,000 Welsh families on housing waiting lists, with first-time buyers needing an average deposit of around £30,000.

They say that only 918 new homes were registered in the first three months of the year, compared to 1,120 last year, despite rises in housebuilding across the UK.

The Welsh Government's own research says that we need 14,200 new homes in Wales each year of which 5,100 need to be affordable.

We have already fallen behind that target by 9,500 homes

The Welsh Government’s response has been pitiful.

They have cut the budget for new social housing and so far all we have had is a deafening silence on how they are going to tackle this crisis.

At least the One Wales Government had a target as to how many additional affordable homes they planned to build, even if they did fail to meet it.

Under Labour we are back to vague promises and hopeless inaction.

If we do not build new homes then we will not be able to bring prices down.

If we do not provide more homes for people to rent then they will remain in desperate need of a roof over their head that they can call their own.

If we do not put in additional help for first time buyers then they will never be able to afford a mortgage to secure their first home.

I recognise that public finances are tight but if we think outside of the box then we can start to tackle this problem.

There are 26,000 empty private sector homes in Wales that can be brought back into use but we are still waiting for the government to give us the leadership and the tools to deliver.

Proposals to raise £100 million of private finance for new affordable homes have been on the cards for years with little or no progress and now it seems that the Labour government has given up on this plan as well.”


Monday, October 17, 2011

Ticking time bombs

Pensions minister Steve Webb flanked by Neath's Mathew McCarthy and Jenny Willott MP

Frank Little writes: One of the benefits of belonging to a party which is in power, albeit only in coalition, is that one gets to question ministers of the crown. On Saturday in Wrexham, Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP and pensions minister in the DWP, joined two officers of care organisations on a panel to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat conference representatives. Being a LibDem gathering, there were rather fewer soft questions than one would expect at a Labour or Conservative rally, but Steve dealt efficiently with everything that was thrown at him, as one would expect from an expert in the field of pensions.

He described one of the difficulties he inherited from Labour as a "ticking time-bomb". Labour before the election increased additions to Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments. However, these were only temporary measures and were scheduled to end within a year under Labour's deficit-cutting plans. He was at least able to set a higher CWP. (There is more in a speech Steve made to London LibDems)

On public sector pensions, he said that there was no alternative to renegotiating the funding of local authority schemes because of promises which had been made causing the schemes to be unsustainable on the present funding formula. The only alternative to a new settlement was massive taxation. He described the previous settlement under Gordon Brown's administration as "a cop-out". He emphasised that, even under the coalition government's proposals, local authority workers would still have pension provision better than most of the private sector.


Welsh Lib Dems call for moratorium on fracking


At the autumn conference of the Welsh Liberal Democrats held in Wrexham last weekend, a topical motion proposed by Eluned Parrott AM on behalf of the Vale of Glamorgan party called for a pause in preparations for shale gas exploitation in Wales. She pointed out that the technical briefing on mineral extraction made available to planning authorities was out-of-date, since it did not cover the technique of hydraulic fracturing. Speakers drew attention to the probable contamination of ground water and seismic events which have been attributed to hydraulic fracturing in parts of the United States. Cllr Frank Little stressed that action was overdue, since applications for exploratory drilling were pending, or had been granted, in many parts of South Wales.

The full text of the motion is as follows:

Conference notes that Hydraulic fracturing, also known as
‘fracking,’ is the process of drilling down and creating tiny
explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the
gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock
at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of
the well. The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly,
by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create
new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing
channels.
Conference further notes that:
1. There is an ongoing application to allow fracking at Llandow
in the Vale of Glamorgan, part of which was heard by the
Planning Committee of Vale of Glamorgan Council on 26th
September 2011
2. Fracking has been suspended in Blackpool pending further
investigation
3. France is maintaining a ban on fracking until there is proof
that shale gas exploration won’t harm the environment
4. The Welsh Government has failed to clearly outline a policy
on hydraulic fracturing.
Conference calls for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until
such time as it can be proven that it represents a low risk to the
environment and wider community.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Liberals part of Danish Social Democrat-led government

Liberal International reports that Det Radikale Ventre, a Danish founding member of LI, has received 6 Ministerial portfolios in the new three-party coalition government. They garnered 9.5% of the votes (up from 5.1%) and 17 seats in the parliament. The party leader Margrethe Vestager will become Minister of Economy and Home Affairs. “We must show that we will definitely enter, participate and contribute to European cooperation”, said Mrs. Vestager, asserting that DRV will ensure that Danish politics embodies a clearly liberal and internationalist direction. Among the six ministers is the country's first foreign born cabinet minister, Manu Sareen (originally from India), who has been given the Ecclesiastical and Equality Ministry. The new Danish government announced its agenda in which they will ease strict immigration rules and scrap a “points-based system” which is used to determine immigration eligibility. LI's other Danish member Venstre, led by former Prime Minister Lars L√łkke Rasmussen, also managed to increase their seat count to 47, receiving the largest vote share in the country (over 26%).

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Peter Black slates Welsh budget as "too timid"

Responding to the publication of the draft Welsh Government budget Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Finance Minister, and AM for South Wales West, said:

“Welsh Liberal Democrats have two overriding objectives for this draft budget: to improve education funding in Wales and to re-boot the Welsh economy and provide training and hope for those without work. Sadly, this ‘bare minimum’ budget is far too timid to make the difference that Wales needs.

“With just one in five children on free school meals, the poorest children, achieving 5 good GCSE’s A*-C, this budget should have taken seriously the need to close the £604 per pupil schools funding gap for children, directing extra help to the to the children that need extra help the most first. The modest increase in schools funding is welcome but does not begin to provide the kind of resources Welsh children need and deserve.

“Labour continues to promote the same failed public sector programs aimed at tackling unemployment. As long as the budget ignores the need to encourage private sector jobs by incentivising employers that take on new trainees, it will fail to provide the boost the Welsh economy needs.

“As we analyse and debate the draft budget over the coming weeks, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to press the case for education and skills to receive the priority they deserve.”