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.


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.

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.