Thursday, June 26, 2008

Assembly Member to hold surgery in Port Talbot

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, will be holding two of his regular advice surgeries in the first week of July.

Mr. Black will be in Port Talbot Central Library on Friday 4th July from 3pm to 4pm. He will then be available at Porthcawl Library from 4.30pm to 5.30pm.

No appointment is necessary.

Welsh sport loses lottery money to Olympics

Just over a year ago, Peter Black wrote of a possible slicing of £24 million from lottery funding for sport and good causes in Wales.

Now it looks as if the shortfall on Welsh sport alone is going to be more like £60 million. Likely to suffer are such charitable sporting funds as the Community Chest. This is administered in Neath Port Talbot by the county borough council on behalf of the Sports Council for Wales.

In the past, the Community Chest has provided grants up to £1000 each to organisations fro activities which encourage more people to be more active, more often. The council has yet to find out how it can budget for the scheme for the next three years.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Darling faces £5bn stamp duty hangover - Oakeshott

The Treasury is heading for a £5bn Stamp Duty shortfall due to falling property prices, new research by the Liberal Democrats has found.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, Lord Oakeshott said:
"Gordon Brown let Britain’s house party get out of control. Now Alistair Darling has been left with a £5bn Stamp Duty hangover.

"The Chancellor had hardly sat down on Budget Day before the housing market fell off a cliff in early April.

"Britain’s mortgage famine, after the wild feast led by Northern Rock, means most house sales are now forced and at knock-down prices. In this horrible market you only sell if you have to.

"Commercial property transactions have halved this year and prices are down 15%."

Today, there was further confirmation of a fall in house sales and news that the average price of a home in Wales had fallen to £137,000.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Less tough talk and more delivery needed in justice system

Last Wednesday (18 June), Louise Casey (an adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair) delivered to the present PM a review of the criminal justice system. She also went public on it here.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"Louise Casey’s tough-talking policies on anti-social behaviour have failed, so why should we take her seriously again?

"If public humiliation worked, we would never have abolished the village stocks.

"We need fewer gimmicks and more delivery: the probation service is over-loaded and unable to properly supervise community sentences.

"Community courts, which would give local people control over punishments, and restorative justice to confront criminals with the consequences of their crimes and with victims. Above all, we need to do what works, and not just posture on penalties."

A day before, at First Minister's Questions, Jenny Randerson (LibDem AM for Cardiff Central) had asked: "Are you aware, First Minister, that, since August 2006, the ASBO process has been used over 1154 times in Cardiff, and will you join me and the Chief Constable, who has commended the way the ASBO process has been used in Cardiff involving close cooperation between the council and the police. Following your party's disastrous local election results, do you regret the way you and your party chose to insult the intelligence of the people of Cardiff by trying to claim that the Liberal Democrats had refused to tackle anti-social behaviour?"

Belated Rock investigation welcome - Cable

Commenting on Northern Rock’s confirmation that its new management has launched an investigation into the possibility of taking legal action against the bank’s former board, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"Though belated, this investigation is very welcome. The Liberal Democrats have long argued that the previous board must be held to account, particularly former chief executive Adam Applegarth.

"It is ridiculous that Mr Applegarth has been able to spend the last six months whiling away the hours on his £63,000 a month redundancy package, without any investigation into how he got Northern Rock into this mess.

"It is essential that this investigation is also extended to Northern Rock’s auditors, who must be held to account for their gross oversights.

"Northern Rock Chairman Ron Sandler must ensure no one from the previous administration is allowed to duck the responsibility they hold for the run on Northern Rock."

Bookies’ takings rocket to £800m from addictive gambling machines

An explosion in the number of high-stakes gambling machines, linked to problem gambling, is fuelling profits of over £15 million a week for ‘high street’ bookmakers, research by the Liberal Democrats has found.

Key findings included:
· High street bookies are now taking up to £830 million a year from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) - with some bookies’ profits having risen by 1217% in five years.
· In 2000 there were only 14,500 gambling machines in UK bookies, but since the Government’s reforms that number has increased to 24,500 in terms of FOBT’s alone.
· The proportion of GamCare callers citing high-stakes gambling machines as their main gambling activity has almost tripled since 2003.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Don Foster said:
"There’s nothing wrong with people enjoying the occasional flutter, but these machines are raising serious concerns about the levels of problem gambling.

"This Government has presided over a gambling regime that allows more addictive forms of gambling to blossom while letting softer forms of gambling, like bingo, suffer.

"Ministers need to take their eyes off the revenue that gambling tax brings in and have a long hard look at the lack of support out there for those who have a problem.

"We urgently need independent research into the impact that these machines are having on gambling addiction."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tory candidate in Henley caught out in a fib?

Surely not!

Wheels coming off economy built on cheap credit - Cable

The announcement that inflation reached 3.3% drew this comment from Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable:

"The Bank of England now finds itself backed into a corner with no room for manoeuvre.

"We now have a situation worryingly reminiscent of the 1970s, with unemployment and inflation both rising, and growth falling.

"The reality is that Gordon Brown’s Government has spent the last ten years pursuing economic growth built on little more than cheap credit. Now that economic times are harder and people are struggling with debt, the wheels are coming off the economy."

See also Vince Cable's comments on the economy here and here.

Fatal work accidents report deeply worrying - Willott

Commenting on last Tuesday's report from the Centre for Crime and
Justice Studies
, which suggests that at least twice as many people die from fatal injuries at work than are victims of homicide, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Cardiff Central MP, Jenny Willott said:

"It is deeply worrying that fatal accidents at work are being brushed under the carpet.

"This report suggests that health and safety inspections and investigations simply aren’t carried out often enough, which has had devastating consequences.

"Previous reports have highlighted that Health and Safety Executive is underfunded and overworked but the Government hasn’t acted on these findings. Ministers must take steps immediately to ensure that people are safe at work.

"Deregulation is not a licence for employers to abandon their responsibility to protect their employees."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Continued Iraq presence endangering Afghan mission

Commenting on the Government’s announcement of the deployment of further troops to Afghanistan, expected to bring the total to over 8000, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey said:

"Further support for the vital work our troops are doing in Afghanistan is welcome.

"However, the Government is still failing to address the pressing issue of overstretch in our armed forces.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that our troops are being kept in Iraq largely for the political convenience of President Bush.

"It is time the Government set a timetable for withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. By continuing to try to fight on two fronts, we are endangering our chance to build lasting security in Afghanistan."

Youth custody increase has not reduced crime

Frances Done, the new head of the Youth Justice Board, admits that the number of children in custody remains "stubbornly high" and welcomes new police priority targets for reducing first-time entrants into the youth justice system and re-offending among young people.

Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson, David Howarth agreed:

"Frances Done is absolutely right. All the evidence shows that placing record numbers of young people behind bars has not reduced crime or reoffending.

"Of course there are some very dangerous young people who have to be detained, but a decade of ineffective rhetoric from Labour has left the criminal justice system dazed and confused."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Public bodies must not wriggle out of FoI obligations - Howarth

Commenting on today’s statement on Freedom of Information by Jack Straw, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson, David Howarth said:

"It is difficult to see how we can be in an era of free information when over one in three requests is not fully resolved and one in five is point-blank refused.

"There are also genuine concerns over the creeping use of fees and exemptions as public bodies seek to wriggle away from their obligations.

"Lord Falconer’s attempts to curb freedom of information on grounds of costs were rebuffed last year. They must remain rebuffed."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Labour dinosaurs are holding Wales back - Black

Labour AMs have blocked proposals to devolve new powers to Wales, powers which could have lead to a shake up of the way Wales elects its councils.

South Wales West AM Peter Black won a ballot in the Senedd to bring forward the legislative competence order (LCO) which would have devolved more powers to the Assembly. He said he was disappointed that Labour AMs - some of whom have previously spoken in favour of electoral reform - vetoed the proposal. No Labour AMs spoke in the debate.

Mr Black said: "Labour AMs should be ashamed with themselves. They have vetoed a proposal which would have given the Assembly crucial powers for the future. They have done so with no explanation of why. They are putting the brakes on devolution, at a time when we should be going further and faster.

"Labour AMs were given a free vote. The government told us it ' had no view ' on the matter. Yet Labour AMs have rejected this logical step in the devolution process.

"Labour have turned their backs on the devolution project they started more than a decade ago. The party that used to dominate Welsh politics is showing why it is becoming increasingly unpopular. Labour AMs didn't even have the courage and decency to explain why they were torpedoing this proposal.

"It seems clear to me that the people of Wales - like those in Scotland and Northern Ireland - should have the power to determine how they elect their local councils. Labour AMs will have to explain their reluctance to allow that to the people they represent."
> Tory AMs abstained on the vote.
> Notes:
> The final vote was:
> For 18
> Abstain 8
> Against 21

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Take innocent people's DNA off database - Willott

Jenny Willott, LibDem MP for Cardiff Central, is today introducing a Private Member's Bill to wind back some of the encroachments on civil liberty of recent years.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

British Army still faces yawning recruitment gap

UK Armed Forces manning figures were published last week. Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey, said that they demonstrated that there was still a yawning recruitment gap in the British Army.

"The continuing decline in the number of regular Army troops should be of grave concern to the Government.

"Ministers persist in denying there is even a problem. The tail-off in recruitment and retention in the Army and the growing reliance on Commonwealth and foreign troops is a wake-up call.

"It is time for a fundamental reappraisal of the commitments we expect our troops to make and the resources they are given to do the job."

Monday, June 09, 2008

MEPs need financial "code of conduct"

All candidates for the European Parliament elections next year should be expected to sign a code of conduct requiring them to meet high standards of financial probity.

Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP who in February revealed the contents of a secret auditors’ report detailing the misuse of public money by some parliamentarians, says that party leaders should come together to frame a new agreement.

He claims that significant reforms supported by all British MEPs are repeatedly blocked in the European Parliament because of opposition from members elsewhere.

He said: "The Giles Chichester affair has provoked another furore over MEP expenses in the UK, but there will not be a mention of it in the Italian, Greek or Romanian press.

"The European Parliament may be incapable of reforming itself. Dutch, Scandinavian and British campaigners will never secure a majority in favour of radical improvement while there is no pressure on others to vote for change."

Mr Davies wants the political parties in Britain to negotiate an agreement between themselves that will lay stress on financial transparency and annual independent auditing of MEPs’ accounts.

"We may not be able to bring about reform of all European Parliament procedures," he said, "but at least we can give an assurance to British voters that the representatives they elect will set high standards of financial probity,"

Commenting on allegations that North West Conservative MEP Den Dover had paid £758,000 to his wife and daughter out of his secretarial expenses allowance Mr Davies said:

"I doubt that Den Dover has broken any parliamentary rules, but this simply highlights that there is something very wrong with the rules. Most people hearing this news will rightly believe that they are capable of being flagrantly abused."

(Since Chris Davies issued this statement, we have learned more about the exploitation of lax EU financial controls by Conservative MEP John Purvis.)

Pay for Army privates scandalous

Commenting on General Sir Richard Dannatt’s remarks on Army privates’ pay, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey said:

"It is refreshing to hear the head of the Army being open about problems with soldiers’ pay while still in post.

"Considering the massive sacrifices that we ask them to make, there is no doubt that our Army privates are scandalously underpaid.

"Privates on the frontline in Iraq and Afghanistan are arguably paid less than the minimum wage on an hourly basis - a measure which the Government was careful to ensure did not apply to the Armed Forces.

"The Armed Forces pay review body must be given the chance to conduct a no strings attached review of the pay of privates, free from the usual constraints the Government imposes."

Chance for a voting change

Next Wednesday, Peter Black, AM, is to introduce a debate on his LCO (Legislative Competence Order - see note below) on Local Government Electoral Arrangements. If successful, this would give the Assembly the power to introduce fair votes for Local Government elections, as has already been achieved in Scotland. This, of course, was one of Plaid’s manifetso commitments – it will be interesting to see what they do.

An LCO can be proposed by the Assembly Government, an Assembly committee, or an Assembly Member.

Once approved by the Assembly, the LCO is sent to the Secretary of State to be laid before both Houses of Parliament and, if approved, made by Her Majesty in Council.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Lloyds deal will leave Northern Rock with low quality debt

Commenting on the announcement that Northern Rock customers will be encouraged to re-mortgage with Lloyds TSB when they come to the end of their deals, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"Selling its best mortgages to Lloyds TSB will leave Northern Rock with only the lowest quality mortgages on its books.

"This will help Northern Rock to make its first repayments on the £25bn it owes the Government, but could put later payments at risk.

"Ministers have never come clean about Northern Rock’s mortgage book, which I have long believed contains a substantial amount of bad debt.

"This deal will not resolve what to do about the awful inheritance from the bank’s previous management, who drove the bank to the wall."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Encouraging younger citizens

Jo Swinson (LibDem) is one of the sponsors of a parliamentary Bill to lower the voting age to 16. More here.

This will not necessarily result in higher percentage turnouts, but is the right thing to do for a group of citizens who are almost certainly better informed than their grandparents were.

What would improve the democratic process is for the age limit for membership of community councils to be reduced in line.

MoD helicopter dithering beggars belief - Harvey

Commenting on yesterday’s [Wednesday] NAO report on airworthiness problems with Britain’s Chinook helicopters, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey said:

"Even by the usual standards of MoD procurement sagas, this report really beggars belief.

"It is scandalous that while our troops are desperate for helicopters in Afghanistan, eight Chinooks have been left on the tarmac back in Britain.

"This is a dismal tale of dithering, bad planning, and the gross waste of public funds. It is incredible that millions can be frittered away on bad decisions and yet penny pinching on other MoD equipment has cost the lives of service personnel.

"The MoD seems to be in a state of meltdown, yet Gordon Brown is offering neither concern nor leadership."

A government spokesman promised that the Chinooks, which have been stored in an air-conditioned hangar for the last eight years, will start to become available at the end of next year.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

OECD report truly awful news for the Government - Cable

Today’s OECD report was ‘truly awful’ for the Government, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

The report’s main findings were that:

· Growth will be below 1.5% this year

· Because of inflationary pressures, further interest rates cuts will not be possible this year

· Disregarding Northern Rock, the Government will break its rule of not borrowing more than 40% of GDP in 2009

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"This is truly awful news for the Government. It confirms all the worst fears about a deteriorating economy, and the lack of any freedom of manoeuvre due to lax control of government spending on Gordon Brown’s watch.

"Instead of just drifting, ministers should plan ahead to mitigate the worst effects of the coming slowdown. The Government must ensure we do not get the spiralling repossessions we saw during the Tory recession of the early 1990s."

Government ignorance on unexploded cluster munitions incredible - Davey

The Government has no idea how many unexploded British cluster bombs remain from conflicts around the world, the Liberal Democrats have found.

In a Parliamentary answer, Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth admitted that he could not provide an accurate estimate of the number of unexploded British cluster munitions which still have to be cleared following their use in Iraq, Kuwait, Serbia and Kosovo.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said:

"These weapons have a terrible legacy, yet the Government appears to have no idea how many it has used and how many have been made safe.

"It is incredible that the Government cannot even provide an estimate as to the nature of the threat.

"These weapons are a hidden menace, not only to the security of the thousands of civilians who risk death or injury, but increasingly to Britain’s reputation.

"David Miliband must not bow to pressure from the MoD or from the US over its own desire to continue storing cluster munitions on British soil. He must sign Britain up to a full ban on these weapons."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Railway station improvements - fine for Cardiff, but what about us?

The restitution of platforms at Cardiff Queen Street is long overdue. In particular, the service to Cardiff Bay - providing access to the Millennium Centre and the Welsh Assembly building - needs improvement, if day visitors are to be persuaded to abandon road in favour of rail.

But what about Port Talbot and Neath? The council leader has identified the former as in sore need of development (hopefully, to include an easy interchange with road transport), but what help is the county borough to be given by the Plaid/Labour coalition government?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Neath Port Talbot's "Mr Election" retires

It is not going to be the same in the Neath Port Talbot elections office, as Peter Davies retires. (See the full official story here.)

We said our personal goodbyes earlier this year, before the start of the local election campaign, but I should like to place on public record my appreciation of Mr Davies's courtesy and helpfulness over the last twelve years. This was a period of change, not just because of the settling down of the new unitary authority, but also because of the many changes in electoral law which occurred in that time. The postal vote regulations in particular threw an unprecedented burden on Mr Davies and his team. He would take time to explain to inexperienced candidates what was going on during the electoral process, and, while sticking scrupulously to the law, was always ready to listen to reasonable and constructive requests.

Frank Little