Friday, February 27, 2009

Royal Mail and the post offices need more than gestures

Peter Hain was unequivocal on "Question Time" last night. He will vote against any privatisation of Royal Mail. However, he did not offer a solution to two major problems facing the postal system: where is the money coming from to update the Royal Mail's technology, and what is to be done about the post office network?

A purely public service answer is feasible. The government could put back some of the money previous administrations have skimmed off, money which should have gone into continuous technological improvements, and replenish the pension fund, which it has forced to take contribution "holidays". (Both Conservatives and Labour have been guilty of treating the Post Office as a cash cow, though credit should be given to Tony Benn in the 1960s for giving a kick-start to modernisation.) The Post Office, both collectively and individually, should be allowed to advertise its facilities. Its ability to accept and receive payments should be increased, not discouraged.

But there was no promise of extra money last night. So there will have to be external investment, or not only the post offices but also the Royal Mail will wither away.

Liberal Democrat policy, which Mr Hain misrepresented last night in line with Labour spin-machine directives, in spite of vigorous correction by Kirsty Williams, is laid out in the background notes to our petition of last year protesting against post office closures. (An excerpt is at the end of this posting.) The government has yielded on the post office card account, and gone a little way on the universal service obligation; now let it go all the way.

Lib Dem proposals - your questions answered

"Is this a privatisation of the Post Office?"

No. This is not a privatisation of the Post Office. That is a misrepresentation of our policy spread by some of our opponents which relies on creating confusion between the Royal Mail and the Post Office. Under our plans the Post Office franchising company – Post Office Ltd - will be separated from the Royal Mail and retained in the public sector. Our proposals will lead to extra investment in existing branches, the opening of new ones and will give the network new markets.

"Could a part-privatised Royal Mail decide not to deliver in rural or remote areas?"

No. Royal Mail will continue to deliver to every address – it will be required to do so under its licence.

"Will the daily delivery of mail continue?"

Yes. We will protect the Universal Service Obligation (USO) and therefore the network will be required to be able to deliver to each property 6 days a week.

"Will customers have to pay more to post a letter to a rural area?"

No. The USO will require the Royal Mail to deliver to every address at a uniform price.

"Will stamp prices go up?"

Big rises in the price of stamps will be less likely under our proposals. The only source of cash for investment if the Royal Mail is in the public sector and not allowed to borrow is the income from stamps and charges to business customers. To make the investment needed without borrowing, these costs will rise considerably. We do not wish to see the price of stamps rise in this way. Borrowing to pay for investment will be repaid through the company being more competitive and efficient.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ID cards - government suppresses criticism

The Office of Government Commerce has spent huge sums of taxpayers' money to help the Government avoid publishing reviews of ID card plans.

A tribunal has ordered the reviews to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, but it is still not certain that this will happen.

You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

John Warman says Assembly's rail policy disappoints

In an interview by the Evening Post, Neath Port Talbot councillor and former Rail Users Consultative Council member John Warman argued that the powers that be should be doing more.

He said: "People are disappointed by the Assembly's stance on transport.

"Fares need to be reasonably priced and we need to have a good service. There are benefits to the economy and to communities from having good public transport and that includes the rail network. We are forcing people off trains and onto the roads and that is defeating the environmental arguments.

"Unless something is done to improve public transport links from Wales our economy will be left behind."

Jacqui Smith caught out

The Home Secretary encouraged people to spy on their neighbours, but she couldn't have reckoned on her own neighbours casting doubt on her explanation of her Commons expenses.

Job title corrected 2009-02-25

Liberal Democrats now alone as council tax axers

The Welsh Nationalists have gone quiet on their manifesto commitment to oppose council tax, while the Scottish Nationalists have done a complete U-turn.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You couldn't make it up

A Labour candidate in a recent by-election in England (no names, no pack-drill) follows in the footsteps of John Prescott and George W Bush:

"I was [XXXXX] ward councillor for over 10 years and I want this to stop"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Crosby mysteries

There is doubt about how much Sir David Crosby, who has been forced to step aside as deputy chief of the Financial Services Authority, genuinely believed in his bank's policy at the time he allegedly fired a whistle-blower.

In the Independent yesterday, Vince Cable was quoted as saying that at HBOS Sir James privately accepted the banks were taking risks. The banker was "smart enough to realise he was on a very dangerous treadmill", he said. In meetings with him, Sir James argued he would be "fired" if he changed HBOS's behaviour while other banks pressed on, Mr Cable claimed.

According to thismoney website: "[The London Evening] Standard also revealed today that Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable felt Sir James had also tried to silence his warnings over the looming economic turmoil."

Tonmawr children’s playground safety queried

Liberal Democrat councillor Des Sparkes is pressing for a long-overdue safety inspection of the children’s playground in Tonmawr. The community council promised last October to send the community’s footpaths officer on a course that would enable him to carry out this function. Four months later, this has still not been done.

Des Sparkes says: “To my knowledge, the playground at Tonmawr has not been inspected for five years. This not only flouts the law, but also the duty of care the Community Council has to the children of Pelenna. I am calling on my fellow county councillor, the member for Pelenna, to join me in impressing upon Pelenna Community Council the seriousness which the County Borough Council attaches to child safety.”

Labour solution to rising unemployment: close job centres

The number of people on Jobseekers in Wales is four times higher than the number of jobs available, the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The figures, revealed through Parliamentary Questions, also show that:

· There are 6 Welsh constituencies in which Jobseekers outnumber vacancies by more than 10 to 1.

· There are 16 Welsh constituencies in which Jobseekers outnumber vacancies by more than 5 to 1 – 14 of which have Labour MPs

Commenting, Jenny Willott, Welsh Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, said:

“These figures underline just how badly Wales is being hit by the unemployment crisis.

“Gordon Brown can talk about there being half a million vacancies all he wants, but if they aren’t being advertised and they’re not in the areas they’re needed, they aren’t going to be much help.

“Some parts of Wales are looking increasingly desperate with over 10 Jobseekers for each vacancy.

“Rather than provide help when it is needed, ministers have closed almost 50 Jobcentres across Wales over the last five years alone.

“We need to ensure that Jobcentres are easily accessible for the public and that they offer access to all the jobs available.”

Welsh Lib Dem Shadow Economy Minister, Jenny Randerson AM added:

"This is a worrying milestone in this increasingly long and bleak period. The UK rate is running at 6.3%, so Wales is in a considerably worse position. For a long period, the Welsh unemployment rate was below the UK average, and now we have fallen behind. This raises serious questions about the unsustainable nature of the economy that Labour has built in Wales over the last decade.

The worrying thing is that because no-one can tell how long this recession will go on for, we just do not know how bad things are going to get. It is clear however that Wales is facing an even more difficult time than the rest of the UK. This means the Assembly Government's response needs to be sharper, more focused and more effective."

Israel: another argument against party lists

"Make Votes Count" explains why the Israeli system leads to governmental constipation.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Cabin, Cwmgwrach

We have commented before on the loss of this facility to Blaengwrach ward. The condition report, about which there has been much dispute, has still not been put in the public domain.

However, one immediate threat has been removed. Neath Port Talbot planning and development department has rejected the application by the former Neighbourhood Watch group to develop the site for housing. The fact that this has been done under delegated powers, without any councillor asking for the determination to be made by committee, shows that the applicants have no supporters on the county borough council, even among the Nationalists.

The situation is still unsatisfactory. A building which required regular maintenance to be usable has been left to decay and Cwmgwrach has no equivalent facility.