Friday, September 29, 2006

Neath Port Talbot street lighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Female prison for Wales - second thoughts

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

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

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

Cilfrew and Trebanos planning decisions

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

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Labour minister endorses LibDem councils

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

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

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

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

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

Media - the good guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Friday, September 22, 2006

Demise of TV political journalism

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Liberal Democrats are green, and in government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberal Democrat Conference Diary - Day 2

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

Sunday, September 17, 2006

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

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

Baglan Energy Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Gary Lewis

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2006

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

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

Ask about any other Liberal Democrat policies.

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

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Clare Short delivers yet another Blow to the Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Richie Northcote

Friday, September 15, 2006

Vehicle Child Restraint - New Law

The new law regarding regulations governing the use of child car seats will come into force on Monday 18 September 2006 with many people still completely unaware of this change. There has been a clear lack of publicity on this matter so for clarity sake the new law can be found at:
[Superseded link replaced 2011-10-11 - FHL]

The main reason for this change is clearly illustrated as:

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

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

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

- Richie Northcote

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ask a policeman electronically

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

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

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

Fun and politics in the sun

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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Running commentary from the Westminster stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 04, 2006

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

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

- Richie Northcote

Inconsistencies in magistrates' sentences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Lewis

Saturday, September 02, 2006


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

Friday, September 01, 2006

By-Election Watch August 2006

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

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

By-Election Results: Thursday 31st August 2006

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

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

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

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

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

By – Election Results: Thursday 24th August 2006

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

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

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

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


By-Election Results: Thursday 17th August 2006

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


By-Election Results: Thursday 10th August 2006

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

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

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


By – Election Result: Thursday 3rd August 2006

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