Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Good AGM

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pelenna - the forgotten valley?

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Friday, November 17, 2006

Another Conservative politician sees through Cameron

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

The Leatherhead Advertiser quotes her as saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How green is our MP?

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

1 How important a concern is climate change?

2 What can Britain do to make a difference?

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

The Independent newspaper today published the responses.

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Freedom of speech - hard cases make bad law

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Yet Another Surprise By-Election Victory

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

November 9th 2006

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

Farmers market

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

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

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

- Frank Little

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Labour's money pledge for unions

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

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

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