Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year honours

Congratulations to Welsh Liberal Democrats who appear in the New Year’s Honours list:
  • Roger Williams, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire and founder member of the former Social Democratic Party: CBE
  • Rodney Berman, former leader of Cardiff council: OBE
There were also OBEs for Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, and Andrew Wiseman, one of the party's legal eagles, specialising in environmental law.

Fiona Hall, MEP for the North East and leader of Liberal Democrat MEPs, and Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat Leader on the London Assembly, are awarded MBEs.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Welsh LibDems win battle on regioanl pay

The Chancellor announced in his Autumn Statement that the Government no longer intends to expand regional and local pay – a policy that would have had a detrimental effect on Wales.

Kirsty Williams commented, “I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats have put a brake on George Osborne’s plans for regional or local pay. Yes, we need to rebalance the economy, but regional or local pay isn’t the answer.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always believed that moves towards regional or local pay would further ingrain regional inequalities. That is why we took our campaign against regional pay to our Party Conference, which not only secured our party’s position on the matter, but also gave our Ministers in Government a clear direction. I am immensely proud that the Welsh Lib Dems played such a key part in this campaign.”

Friday, December 07, 2012

Kirsty wins another award

In a ceremony shown on TV last night, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Kirsty Williams was presented with the Welsh Politician of the Year award.

Labour holds Neath South ward

Labour's Andrew Jenkins won the by-election in the Neath South ward left vacant by the death of Mal Gunter. (pdf of the declaration here) We congratulate him and trust that he will serve the residents well.

Liberal Democrat candidate Charlotte Cross polled 130 votes to Labour's 399, a creditable performance for a first-time candidate in a campaign where we were not able to put out as much literature as we had hoped and in a ward which we had not previously contested since the county borough came into being.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Welsh NHS is a laughing-stock in Westminster

An £82m contingency fund to help struggling health boards with their finances has been announced by Health Minister Lesley Griffiths. But Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "The minister is predictably denying that this is a bailout."

Griffiths had "plugged a hole in the NHS’ finances by raiding its capital budget. I struggle to see how this can be described as anything other than a bailout."

Kirsty added: “The basic fact is that this Welsh Labour Government has completely mismanaged our health service and has left the finances of the NHS in complete ruins. Simply rejigging money around is not going to solve all of the problems in our NHS.”

Conservative health ministers and David Cameron find the financial cuts in the Welsh NHS an all too convenient comparison with what is happening in England. For all the botched reorganisation in England, it cannot be denied that more cash is being put into the NHS there.

Yesterday's reply (column 860) by the Prime Minister to Ed Miliband was typical: "People do not have to look at manifestos for a contrast; they can look at what Labour is doing in Wales. The Labour party is in charge in Wales, and it has cut the NHS in Wales by 8%. As a result, waiting times are up, waiting lists are down, quality is down. That is what you get with Labour and the NHS."

Lack of care

Ann Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley, felt that she had to take her distress over the treatment of her dying husband in a Welsh hospital to the national stage by asking a question of the Prime Minister yesterday. David Cameron was too diplomatic to point out the brutal truth which Karen Roberts has not shrunk from.

Frank Little

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wales gets £227m capital windfall

BBC-Wales reports that under the coalition government's autumn statement, £227 million extra capital funding, which pays for spending on buildings and infrastructure, is coming to Wales as its share of a squeeze on UK government departments.

Coalition government takes more low-paid workers out of tax

Neath South polling day Thursday 6th December

Vote Charlotte Cross, Welsh Liberal Democrat, for a fresh voice on Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

Monday, November 19, 2012

Children's services still not safe

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, has welcomed the decision by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales to invoke the use of the Serious Concern Protocol for Children's Social Services in Neath Port Talbot.

Peter Black was reacting to an inspection report that was published today by CSSIW that concluded that "the service lacks direction and staff need clear guidance and support to promote consistent levels of good practice." The Inspectorate states that the "high turnover of staff has continued to have an adverse impact on the performance and continuity of service delivery to children and their families. [An improvement plan] has not resulted in clear direction for staff nor the improvements in practice which were identified in the last inspection as being necessary."

"Overall caseloads are too high, a significant number of new social workers have little experience of practice, there is a continuing dependence on agency workers, there is a high turnover of staff and stress related sickness absence. This is the third report of its type in two years," said Mr. Black, "And yet Inspectors still have serious concerns about the operation of this department and its effectiveness in protecting children

" I share those concerns, having had a number of issues brought to me by concerned parents and teachers over the same period.  What is clear is that committed and hard-working front line staff are being swamped with unmanageable caseloads, and are not receiving the support and guidance that they need. In these circumstances there is a real danger that a child could slip though the safety net. That is an unacceptable risk, so it is absolutely right that the level of intervention by CSSIW is stepped up to try and turn the service around."

Welsh LibDems welcome greater devolution proposals

The Commission chaired by Paul Silk published its report today. The report recommends empowering Welsh Government by giving it tax-raising powers.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "We have been arguing for greater devolution for over a century. This is the latest step in our long campaign for a federal UK. It will strengthen Wales and help make a real difference to the lives of people across the country."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Peter Black backs independent for PCC

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, has given his backing to Independent candidate, Mike Baker in Thursday’s election for a Police and Crime Commissioner for the South Wales area. Mr. Black met Mr. Baker today at the remembrance march in Bridgend and was impressed with both his experience and commitment to the role.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats are not contesting this election because we believe that the Police should be above party politics,” said Mr. Black. “My vote inevitably will therefore go to one of the independent candidates.

 “Mike Baker is a retired Police Officer, having served across the South Wales Police area for 30 years. He is currently working as a civil and criminal solicitor within the South Wales area. As such he has experience on both sides of the fence, being familiar with the system as well as the demands put on a modern police force.

 “It seems to me that the Police Commissioner role was designed with people like Mike Baker in mind, an independently minded individual, who knows what is needed to ensure that front line policing gets the resources and support it needs. I will be giving my vote to Mike Baker on Thursday and I urge others to do so as well.”

Friday, November 09, 2012

Neath Liberal Democrats select by-election candidate

Local Liberal Democrats have chosen Charlotte Cross to contest the 6th December by-election in Neath South. 

Deputy chairman of Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats, Mathew McCarthy, said:

 'I'm extremely pleased Charlotte is standing for the Liberal Democrats in Neath South. She is local, young, and determined to make a difference in her community. Charlotte finally offers a real alternative to Labour who for too long have taken the people of Neath South for granted'

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Mobile Home Bill to be introduced in the Senedd

On 25th October Peter Black formally launched his Mobile Homes Bill at a Consumer Focus Wales event in Llandrindod Wells. 

On Wednesday he will be introducing it into the Welsh Assembly.

The Bill is intended to modernise the licensing regime for park homes across Wales - giving local authorities the powers to award and monitor licenses and to ensure site owners pass a fit and proper persons test.

The Bill also offers protection to mobile home residents wishing to sell their homes without prior agreement with site owners. It can be viewed here.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

LibDems want to reform the EU

Because we believe in the EU, we want to tackle its inflated spending, its protectionist Common Agricultural Policy and unfair Common Fisheries Policy - among other things. As Stephen Tall writes:

 the Lib Dems have always championed a reformed EU. An EU which is more responsive to democratic opinion. An EU which liberalises the free movement of people and trade while tackling the problems we share, such as environmental pollution and crime.

Frank Little

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Welsh Government control of grant aid "weak" says report

The long-awaited Wales Audit Office report (pdf here) into the AWEMA scandal has concluded that the "management and coordination of grant funding to AWEMA ... has often been weak". Its criticism is milder than that of an earlier report, but it provides useful background information including a timeline. This may not be the end of the matter. BBC Wales states that a file is with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Peter Black AM has responded: “The negligence that has been exposed in this report highlights something that most of us knew already – that Labour can’t be trusted to act responsibly with the public’s money.

“Time and time again allegations about Awema were raised with the Welsh Labour Government, but still it failed to put things right.

“It is nothing short of disgraceful that an organisation as badly run as Awema was allowed to continue receiving millions of pounds of public money, while this Welsh Government sat back and did nothing. 

“For months the Welsh Labour Government has hidden behind the investigation into this report, using it as a reason not to comment. In spite of intense public and media interest, the Government thought that it had the right to wriggle out of being held to account. It is now time for Ministers to explain themselves. The people of Wales deserve to know why it was considered appropriate for Awema to receive over £7m of public funds.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

LibDem AM leads fight against bad park home site owners

There are fair site owners who do not take advantage of park home residents, but too many are unscrupulous, as this BBC report shows.

South Wales West AM Liberal Democrat Peter Black is fighting for park home residents in Wales. His private members' bill, aimed at reforming the civil legislation surrounding mobile home sites, is due to go before the assembly later this month.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Labour catching up with what Liberal Democrats are doing in government

Things Labour are proposing as if they're new that @LibDemsare already doing in govt, No 1: Setting up a business bank.

Things Labour are proposing as if they're new that @LibDemsare already doing in govt, No 2: Boosting the number of apprenticeships.

Things Labour are proposing as if they're new that @LibDemsare already doing in govt, No 3: Separating retail and investment banking.

Things Labour are proposing as if they're new that @LibDemsare already doing in govt, No 4: Boosting house building.

Friday, September 28, 2012

We are still no wiser about Welsh Government performance, says LibDem AM

The 2011/12 National Survey for Wales found strong satisfaction levels with health and education in Wales, according to Wales Online.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Eluned Parrott said it would be a “justifiable aim” for the Welsh Government to learn about the success of policies. But she added: “However, I am deeply suspicious that this survey is too vague and unfocused to give any indication that could help steer the Welsh Government in any meaningful way. “When using a ‘1 to 10 scale’ on questionnaires, most organisations will expect to hit at least a 7 out of 10 for quality of service – unless they have significant problems.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Liberal Democrat conference asked to reaffirm industrial democracy

Luke Hildyard writes in Liberal Democrat Voice:

While Labour and the Tories debate how to reinvigorate their annual party conference programme, the Liberal Democrats democratic policymaking structure means that debates at their conference remain engaging and relevant. And with the party now in Government, the journey from the Conference floor to the statute book is rather more direct than has previously been the case. This means that over the next few weeks, the Lib Dem gathering in Brighton is the most likely place for progressive yet plausible policy ideas to get a hearing.

The Social Liberal Forum’s motion 106 on employee ownership, to be debated on Monday 24th September from 09:05-11:05, is a particularly good example. The motion calls for a number of radical measures relating to the stewardship of large companies (greater than 250 employees) including: 
 • The right for employees of listed companies to request 5% of company shares
 • A role for employee representatives in major corporate decisions, including conditions of employment; Director’s pay; and the strategic direction of the company
 • The right for companies to implement German-style two-tier board structures, with a supervisory board (including a shareholder’s representative) and a management board (including a worker’s representative). 

It is exciting to think that these kind of policies could shortly be adopted by a governing party. They would go some way to ensuring that more of the profits from businesses go back to the people who generated them, in the communities they were generated. They would also help to combat inequality and out-of-control executive pay by empowering and incentivising ordinary workers, rather than resorting to punitive taxation.

Furthermore, employee ownership makes economic sense. Research from Centre Forum found that businesses with some degree of employee ownership were more productive and more resilient than their competitors. The Employee Ownership Index of companies with more than 10% employee share ownership has outperformed the FTSE All Shares Index by an average of 11% pa since 1992.

Intuitively, it makes sense that businesses that involve their workforce in decision-making processes will also take greater responsibility for their social and environmental impact. Current business models are entrenching inequality and failing to create jobs. With an annual income of £4.86 million, the average FTSE 100 CEO currently earns 185 times the national average We have recently witnessed major scandals in the banking, media and pharmaceuticals industries. So there is an urgent need for a new way of doing business with the needs of the community at its heart. Employee ownership might go some way towards this – workers representatives on boards would bring a different perspective to strategic decisions on areas like executive pay packages, for example, or environmental pollution affecting the community in which they live.

‘Business ethics’ is the theme of the High Pay Centre’s party conference programme this year, and we are hosting an event in Brighton in conjunction with the SLF on Monday 24th September at 8pm, with speakers including Lord Oakeshott and former Gregg’s CEO Sir Mike Darrington, on the evening after the debate on motion 106. Hopefully our discussion will encompass a set of radical new Liberal Democrat policies on employee engagement. 

 ‘The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Luke Hildyard is the Head of Research at the High Pay Centre.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coverage of Liberal Democrat Brighton conference

There is a live relay by BBC-Parliament. Huffington Post, Liberal Democrat Voice, Mark Pack and various other outlets will provide video clips and/or commentary

Friday, September 14, 2012

Liberals win Dutch legislative elections

The elections in The Netherlands have been marked by a victory for the liberals of VVD and of D66. In his victory speech to an ecstatic audience VVD leader Prime Minister Mark Rutte triumphantly said that “[we] obtained the best result in history, and again have become the largest party in The Netherlands.” D66 leader Alexander Pechtold MP claimed “the fifth victory in a row”, saying that “in the bizarre duel between left and right, D66 managed to grow nonetheless”. Together the liberal forces now hold more than one third of the entire political spectrum. LI President Hans van Baalen MEP has called the election result a “great achievement for the Dutch liberals”. He said: “The populists of Geert Wilders had to accept a heavy defeat. Its anti-international and anti-European campaign did not appeal to the electorate. Wilders and his party are sidelined”. LI President expressed confidence that “PM Mark Rutte will be able to build a strong centre coalition, in which both liberal parties take part.”

[Thanks to Liberal International newsletter for this]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Welsh Liberal Democrats support supermarket ombudsman

A NEW "supermarket ombudsman" for the UK is being backed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The party said it sympathised with dairy farmers after some processors said they planned to reduce what they pay for milk by 2p per litre. Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, AM, said, "The creation of this new supermarket ombudsman is great news for farmers. "I'm pleased the UK government has made a start, but this can only be the beginning."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats welcome GWR electrification

The Department for Transport this morning announced a "landmark decision to take electric rail beyond Cardiff to Swansea, completing the full electrification of the Great Western Main Line out of London Paddington at a total cost of more than £600m, and electrifying the Welsh Valley lines, including Ebbw Vale, Maesteg and the Vale of Glamorgan. These will give two-thirds of the Welsh population access to new fleets of electric trains helping to generate Welsh jobs and growth by slashing journey times and boosting passenger and freight capacity."

Local Liberal Democrats welcomed the boost which the decision will give to confidence in businesses in the Neath Port Talbot area, as well much-needed construction work.

Olympic washout for Wales

An opinion poll has found that the London 2012 Olympics are of no benefit to Wales.

Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on business, said: “These results do not come as a surprise to me. The Welsh Labour Government’s childish attitude in engaging with the Coalition Government in Westminster meant that many Welsh businesses that could have won lucrative contracts from the 2012 Olympics lost out.

“In the months and years running up to the 2012 Games, the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments were busy engaging with the UK Government and the London Organising Committee. Instead, in Wales, the Labour Government hadn’t even written to the body responsible for rewarding the £6bn worth of contracts to make representations on behalf of Welsh businesses.

“It is no wonder that the people of Wales don’t necessarily feel engaged with the Olympics because this Welsh Labour Government hadn’t seen the opportunities that the 2012 Games could have brought to Wales.

“For those companies who have managed to win contracts, I am of course delighted and hope that they are able to use the kudos of the Olympics to raise the profile of their business. It is just sad that those companies are few and far between.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

State of the NHS in Wales

The status quo of NHS finances has been branded “unaffordable” as the organisation faces major short-term challenges in managing its budget, a finance watchdog has warned.

Next week, Wales' health minister will face a no-confidence vote in the Welsh assembly in a row about a report into reforming hospital services. Opposition parties united to table a joint motion and called on Labour's Lesley Griffiths to resign.

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said: “This was not a decision we came to lightly. It is a serious step when the three party leaders of Wales come together and state that we have no confidence in the Health Minister’s ability to run our NHS. We are effectively calling for her to resign and she and the First Minister should seriously consider what we are proposing.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Labour's approach to evidence-based policy

First, form the policy, then find the evidence, it seems.

The Save Withybush Hospital campaign has a good summary of the methodology of the Longley Report here:

Now the "smoking gun" in the form of emails between Professor Longley and Lesley Griffiths' health ministry has been found.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "These email exchanges clearly contradict the health minister's statements that this case for change report was an 'independent assessment' and that it was 'impartial, based solely on the evidence'. "This is an appalling insult to the many people in Wales who are rightfully concerned about the impending NHS reorganisation. How can we now have confidence in the Welsh Labour government's reorganisation process when they sex-up documents to suit their own needs?"

It is easy to draw the conclusion that having found that the truly independent McKinsey recommendations were not to their liking, Labour found a more amenable expert closer to home.

Frank Little

Monday, July 09, 2012

Votes at 16

The Welsh government is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16, a debate in the Welsh assembly has been told. Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts - one of the four members who tabled the original motion - said that while the issue had been part of Lib Dem party policy at UK level for some time, it had also been raised in Wales several times by young people he had met at sessions in schools. "As a country we are willing to see our young people join the armed forces at the age of 16, have children and get married and yet we seem to think that youngsters are not mature enough to vote at that age," he said. "Although I accept that this is currently a matter for the UK Parliament, I believe that the fact that the motion attracts cross-party support is an important indicator of opinion within the National Assembly."

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

First Minister's unilateral support for Trident "an affront to democracy"

The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats,Kirsty Williams, claims she's been forced to submit a Freedom of Information request on Trident, after the First Minister repeatedly refused to answer questions put to him publicly in the chamber and in written form on the issue of nuclear subs in Wales.

The questions follow from the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, saying last month that he would welcome nuclear submarines to Milford Haven if they were ever to leave their current base at Faslane in Scotland.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Welsh Government gets poor deal on Enterprise Zones

Commenting on today’s statement on Enterprise Zones by Edwina Hart, Shadow Business Minister Eluned Parrott said:
“ The Minister has yet again been unwilling or unable to answer simple questions about her interaction with Westminster over the funding available to our Enterprise Zones. Progress towards establishing those zones – and actually getting real people into real jobs – has been painfully slow here in Wales by comparison with England and Scotland, and now we see the reason why.
“While Assembly Members were being told that negotiations were ongoing with the UK Treasury as early as January, the Minister’s request for cash for our Enterprise Zones was apparently made just 9 days before the UK Government ‘s budget on 12 March.
“The Minister wants AMs to join with her to seek an 'early, positive response' in her liaison with Westminster, but to get an early, positive response she should have made an early positive request to the UK Government in the first place. She has singularly failed to do so.
“By going down to the wire, the Welsh Labour Government have failed to get the best deal for Wales – in stark contrast to the success of the Scottish Government. By being quick to act, professional and timely in its own negotiations with Westminster, the Scottish Government have stood up for the people of Scotland in a way that the Welsh Government can only dream of. The contrast is frankly shaming, and yet again, Wales risks being left behind.
“Edwina Hart has given no specific or substantive answers in the past and has again refused to answer direct questions today. I will be writing to the Minister with these important questions and asking for an early, positive response from her on this occasion.”
[First published here.]

Friday, June 22, 2012

AM expresses concern over health boards deficit

The BBC reports that six of Wales' seven local health boards are predicting a combined deficit of around £230m this financial year. Abertawe Bro Morgannwg said it was unable to provide a figure, but it should be noted that Dragon's Eye has revealed that services at Neath Port Talbot hospital are to "reconfigured".

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black said: "I am seriously concerned about the state of LHBs finances for this new financial year.

"If four LHBs failed to balance their books last year after cutting services and making huge savings, the challenge is going to be even harder this financial year and I am worried that patient care and safety will suffer."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Local Government white paper is a missed opportunity

Commenting on the launch of the Welsh government’s White Paper on Local Democracy, the Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Minister for Local Government and Communities Peter Black AM said,

“This represents a complete failure of the Labour party to acknowledge the real problems that face local democracy in Wales. In the local elections a few weeks ago, we saw too many uncontested elections and turn out that was far too low, yet one of the proposals the government has put forward to change the name of the body that draws up election boundaries. This is not the radical thinking that Welsh communities need.

“The Scottish experience was that a proportional electoral system using fair voting meant no more uncontested elections, a wider choice of candidates for voters and higher turnout. Any attempt to reform local democracy without making this essential change is, frankly, a waste of time.

“Likewise, without implementing elections to National parks or devolving many more powers to local authorities so that they can deliver for their areas, we will never breathe life back into our local democracies.

“I will be tabling amendments to the bill to ensure these matters are considered.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another dictionary redefinition from Labour

In March this year, the Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones, announced that hundreds of jobs would be coming to Cardiff. It has since emerged that these are not new jobs. Labour excused their misleading statement on the grounds that it was "a matter of semantics".

Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott said: "Only a Labour government as incompetent as this one can think the issue of literally hundreds of extra jobs is merely 'semantics'".

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Disgrace of second homes discount

In a period of financial austerity, Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot county gives a 25% discount on their council tax to second home owners in the county borough. Neighbouring authorities Carmarthenshire, Bridgend and Swansea charge the full rate.

At the same time the council has imposed charges on its citizens' enjoyment. For instance, it now costs £1 per car to enter the Gnoll Country Park. On top of this, they are taxing Skewen's annual Family Funday from 2013 onwards by insisting on street trading or street collection licence payments for each of the stalls, which have been free before. The future of the Funday is in doubt because of this mean-minded move.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats say: stop subsidising the wealthy and let the hard-working ordinary people have their fun!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Coalition makes Post Office and Royal Mail viable

Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, Minister in the Department for Business, writes in Liberal Democrat Voice:

Royal Mail and the Post Office are two of our most recognisable and most trusted brands. For hundreds of years the post office has been at the heart of our communities – with a value that goes beyond mere economics to the social and the symbolic. Royal Mail, meanwhile, is a service that covers every part of the country and reaches every part of society. The public, quite rightly, is fiercely protective of both institutions.
Sadly previous governments left them both in a mess. Labour opened up the postal market, thereby exposing Royal Mail to the full force of competition. Ludicrously, however, the Regulator tied the company’s hands at the same time, preventing it from competing on an even footing. The widely recognised problem of ‘downstream access’ pricing, which allowed competitors to use Royal Mail for the final (most expensive) mile of delivery at a low charge for the service is a prime example.
It is now the Liberal Democrats in Government who are getting Royal Mail and the Post Office back on their feet and, as minister for postal affairs, I am continuing the work started by Ed Davey.

Royal Mail

Firstly, following the Postal Services Act that Ed took through Parliament last year we have separated Royal Mail from the Post Office to allow a vibrant future for each. The Act made provision for the sale of Royal Mail with a minimum 10% employee ownership, and the injection of capital it desperately needs to safeguard the universal postal service.
Secondly, we have freed the company of a huge deficit by taking on its pensions liabilities. This is good news for postmen and women – as demonstrated by the warm welcome the news received from the Communication Workers Union.
Thirdly, we have provided stronger protections for the universal service obligation which we have now enshrined in law. Ofcom, as the regulator, has a duty to protect that service. The rise in stamp prices from 46p to 60p for first class, and from 36p to 50p for second class (with concessions for vulnerable customers next Christmas), should be seen in this context. Stamp prices in this country have been remarkably low compared to the rest ofEurope; meanwhile, letter volumes have continued to decline as we all use email more and more. Our primary objective is to protect the universal service obligation, but in order to do so we have to allow Royal Mail the means to be commercially viable.

The Post Office

Firstly, we have committed that the Post Office is not for sale, and that there will be no further programme of post office closures. This is a vital vote of confidence for both the network and those who depend upon it.
Secondly, we are investing £1.34billion in modernising the network. This funding was secured at the spending review, and will see significant improvements at around 6,000 branches. The money comes with the critical condition that the Post Office continues to meet current access criteria that see 93% of the population live within a mile of their nearest branch.
Thirdly, we are looking at how government – both local and national – can work with the Post Office to our mutual advantage. By making the Post Office a genuine ‘front office of government’ we can save money for government and local councils, bring more customers into the post office, and make access to government and council services more convenient for people. Councillor Richard Kemp is working with Post Office Ltd to develop these ideas and twenty five councils are developing pilots which could help guide other councils. I encourage Lib Dem councillors and activists to look at whether it could benefit their area.
There is huge potential for the future of Royal Mail and the Post Office. The rise of the internet means the market has changed dramatically. It presents both threats and opportunities – parcel business is rising significantly as people increasingly buy and sell over the internet. A universal postal service and a post office network that stretches the length and breadth of the country will always have a vital role to play. We should be proud that Liberal Democrats in Government are now the ones responsible for securing their future. The steps we are taking will ensure that the Post Office and Royal Mail are still here, still trusted and instantly recognisable in years to come.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mid-Wales MP slams bank branch closures

Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams has fought the closure of a Barclays and an HSBC branch in his rural Welsh constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire.   He says: ‘Banks say customers affected can do much of their banking online. But many of my older constituents are either reluctant to use internet banking, or do not have access to the safe, fast broadband they need to do this.’

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats add: "This is not just a problem for mid-Wales. There are parts of the Neath constituency which lack broadband. This means that bank customers in those areas have to make journeys into town to transact business and has also militated against provision of many social services."

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bahrain bars entry to Liberal Democrat peace campaigner

Description: Description: authorities are now turning to the foreign nationals who have expressed criticism over last year's crackdown of the popular protests. Latest victim was Jonathan Fryer, past chairman of the Liberal International British Group. On his arrival, the immigration officer held a file, including printouts of tweets Mr. Fryer had published expressing dismay at the crackdown on demonstrations at Manama's Pearl Roundabout and the security forces' intervention in a major hospital. He was told that “no-one has been killed in Bahrain” and that “the doctors who were taken away were revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the King.” Mr. Fryer commented on his blog post: “Doubtless one day objective history will set the record straight; at least I hope so. Apparently I have now joined Lord Avebury (2009 LI Prize for Freedom laureate) and others who have campaigned on human rights issues relating to Bahrain in becoming persona non grata there.”  Jonathan Fryer authored the 187th LI EC report“Responsibility to Protect: A Liberal Approach?” [from the Liberal International newsletter]

Assembly Member to hold advice surgery in Neath

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, will be holding his regular advice surgery in Neath next week.

On Friday 13 April 2012 he will be in Neath Central Library from 5pm to 6pm.

No appointment is necessary.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Families hit by sharp rise in bus fares for children

Responding to the report in the Western Mail that families struggling to make ends meet will be hit by a sharp rise in child bus fares next week, Eluned Parrott AM, Liberal Democrat shadow transport minister, said the Welsh Labour Government should evaluate access to public transport. Its transport priorities were “completely skewed”. She added: “We are now reaching the point where it will be cheaper for a family to get a taxi to the local shops, rather than get a bus. It is a scandal the Welsh Government is happy to subsidise North-South flights to the tune of £1.6m a year, while at the same time it punishes the most vulnerable in our society by scaling back on bus subsidies.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neath Port Talbot's university campus in doubt

There is worrying news for the predicted high-tech developments in the west of the county borough in that the business plan for Swansea University's second campus has not yet been presented.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Welsh Liberal Democrat AM welcomes decision on bovine TB

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, has welcomed the decision by Environment Minister. John Griffiths to abandon the previous Government’s cull of badgers in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion and pursue a vaccination programme instead.

“This decision is very much in line with the available scientific evidence, including the peer-reviewed paper prepared by the Independent Science Group (ISG) on the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial that was released in July 2010,” said Mr. Black.

That paper concluded that “reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results, combined with evaluation of alternative culling methods, suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain."

“Given the divisions and acrimony generated by the previous cull decision and the legal problems associated with this course of action, a vaccination programme was the best way forward as part of efforts to control this disease. Not only is it scientifically sound but it also prevents the unnecessary slaughter of badgers, which are a protected species.”

“At last we are getting a commonsense approach to this problem.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Assembly Member visits Swansea Remploy factory to show support for fight against closure

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has visited the Remploy factory in Swansea and addressed workers so as to express his support for their fight to keep it open.

Mr. Black arranged the visit after the UK Government announced plans to close seven of the nine Remploy factories in Wales just over a week ago. He was also the joint author of a motion passed unanimously by Swansea Council last night pledging their support for the factory and agreeing to lobby for its retention.

Commenting on the visit, Mr. Black said: “When I toured the factory this morning I was shocked by the process of managed decline that has taken place there over the last five or six years. Although, the announcement of the proposed closure was a shock, it seems that successive Governments have been preparing for it for some time.

“It was explained to me that essential machinery was not being replaced or updated, that modernisation plans had been put on hold and that vacancies had not been filled for some time. As a result workers were under pressure to fulfil all their work commitments.

“I am also concerned about what will happen to the existing contracts and to new contracts that have been signed recently. These factories are not short of work. They are working to full capacity. Management need to explain whether these existing contracts will be switched to the remaining factories and also if workers will be transferred with them.

“What is clear is that there are many questions still to be answered about the Government’s proposals. We need those answers now if we are to have any chance of saving jobs.”

Councillor Frank Little, secretary of Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats added: "While Remploy Furniture's base in Neath Port Talbot is not on the latest list of closures, one has to fear for its future if so many local manufacturing facilities are to be closed."

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Remploy factory closures are wrong wa y forward says Assembly Member

Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, has condemned the proposed closure of Remploy factories as ill-advised and inappropriate.

Mr. Black has met with campaigners against closures recently and is working closely with them to fight cuts to the subsidy that has led to this closure announcement.

"This is not the first time that Remploy factories locally have faced this threat," said Mr. Black. "The previous Labour Government put forward similar proposals in 2007 and of course closed the Ystradgynlais factory some years before that. They were wrong then and the Government is wrong now.

"It is right that more than 1500 people have been helped by Remploy into supported employment across Wales, however not all disabled people are able to take up that option. The factories provide an important source of employment that enable those with disabilities to work and retain their dignity whilst doing so. Inevitably, their closure will causemany more people to become dependent on benefits and a cost to the government in excess of the current Remploy subsidy. That is not acceptable.

"The Government have chosen the wrong path on this issue and I will do all I can to support workers in the Remploy factories and oppose this closures."

Monday, March 05, 2012

Cut back on bureaucracy and allow local authorities greater freedom to deliver public services – Peter Black

Welsh Liberal Democrats at the Spring Conference 2012 in Cardiff have voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion calling for more freedom for Local Authorities.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have long believed that public services are better delivered when they are managed by the appropriate level of government. In contrast to the Labour-led Welsh administration Liberal Democrats think that when it comes to local services, Local Authorities should have greater control. Councils should be able to protect local interests and services without unnecessary restrictions and interference from the Welsh Government.

Peter Black, Shadow Minister for Local Government, commented:

“Current bureaucracy imposed by the Labour Welsh Government is hampering hard-working councillors across Wales in their attempts to deliver change for their communities. Under Labour’s watch local services have been eroded and often withdrawn.

“Despite spending restrictions and many needless bureaucratic requirements enforced on Local Authorities by the Welsh Government, Liberal Democrat run councils have still been able to provide excellent and efficiently run public services while maintaining low council tax increases.

“In the Welsh Liberal Democrat run council of Swansea, a cut of 20% in special responsibility allowances paid to councillors has saved the council £1million over the last eight years. This has allowed the council to freeze tax for 2012/13. Under Labour the average yearly council tax rise was a hefty 7.6% compared to the Liberal Democrat administration’s modest average increase of 3.4% per annum. That constitutes a saving of more than £3,100 for families living in an average Band D property in Swansea and it’s the same story across many over Welsh Liberal Democrat run councils. In Cardiff the average annual increase in council tax has been just 2.7% compared to 11% a year under the previous Labour administration.

“The Welsh Government needs to cut back on bureaucracy and allow Local Authorities greater freedom to deliver public services efficiently.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats have also called for the implementation of single transferable vote for local elections which will provide a fairer democratic system than first-past-the-post.

Unlike the Labour Welsh Government, who recently announced that elections on Anglesey would be postponed for a year despite calls for democratic renewal of the council in May, Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in fair and democratically accountable government.

Mr Black added:

“There is no convincing reason to delay Council elections on Anglesey until May 2013 when, in the interests of democracy, it would be appropriate to hold elections along with the rest of the country in May 2012.

“If there is any Council in need of democratic renewal, it is Ynys Mon. Despite huge cuts proposed by the Commissioners, currently running the council, their budget will not be subject to democratic approval despite it having far reaching consequences.

“Unlike Labour, a Liberal Democrat Welsh Government would have allowed elections to go ahead on Anglesey this May.

“Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to fair and accountable democracy in a way that other parties are not. Our policy for electoral change at a local authority level represents a fairer system of government which amplifies the voice of the electorate.”

Friday, March 02, 2012

Westminster MP takes up cause of park home residents

Further to our post of February 17th, I now learn that Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole has been pressing David Cameron and the Minister for Housing and Local Government in England, Grant Shapps, for action on park homes and has received a sympathetic hearing.

Wales should be able to act more expeditiously on this matter than the Whitehall machine, but in any case it has to be stressed that whatever Westminster decides in this area has no effect here. This is a delegated matter. Accordingly, I repeat our support for Peter Black's Park Homes Measure and call for anyone with evidence of difficulties in park home residence to contact Peter at

- Frank Little

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Liberals in Europe taking real steps to boost small business

by Fiona Hall MEP*

On Thursday and Friday this week, heads of governments from all EU Member States – including David Cameron – will come to Brussels for the Spring European Council which is dedicated to promoting competitiveness and economic growth.

Liberals & Democrats in the European Parliament (ALDE) are stepping up to the challenge by turning the usual Council rhetoric on the ‘need to stimulate economic growth’ into a concrete plan of action and measures that will help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) create and safeguard local jobs. With SMEs making up to 99% of all businesses in the EU, providing two-thirds of all private sector jobs and creating six in every ten new jobs, we must do all we can to free their potential and help them grow and do business across Europe. We need to remove red tape and improve access to finance and to the single market.

Lib Dem MEPs are already working hard in the European Parliament to do just that. For example, my colleague Sharon Bowles is currently pushing to ring fence a certain proportion of a banks’ regulatory capital specifically for loans to SMEs, as part of her work on the Capital Requirements Directive. In the Energy Efficiency Directive, which I am negotiating on behalf of the ALDE Group at the moment, MEPs want to exempt SMEs from costly energy audits and instead provide them with advice on how they can benefit from saving energy.

But Lib Dem MEPs will also bring the campaign to the UK, surveying local employers, business organisations and union representatives in each region to learn about their specific needs and give them a strong voice across the EU. We have also started an ALDE4SME blog where MEPs will report back on their efforts and interactions with SMEs in different countries.

Business organisations from across the EU have already endorsed our initiative.

If you want to help get this campaign off the ground across the UK, why not spread the word on twitter and Facebook? Help us put SMEs and local jobs at the top of the political agenda in the UK and in Brussels!

* Fiona Hall is Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Delegation in the European Parliament. We are grateful to Liberal Democrat Voice for this article

Monday, February 27, 2012

Labour's transport priorities slammed

WalesOnline reports:
The Welsh Government has come under attack for paying £160 subsidy per passenger on North-South flights – while bus services face the axe for consuming more than £2 subsidy per passenger.

The Welsh Government says it has to cut bus funding in April because its transport budget is under pressure, but it will continue paying £1.6m a year for the flights between Holyhead and Barry.

The air service carried just 10,000 passenger journeys last year – compared with 114 million on Welsh buses.

Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat shadow transport minister, said: “We all know that difficult choices have to be made in these tough economic times. I would hope that with hindsight even the Welsh Labour Government would accept that it has had the wrong transport spending priorities. It’s a scandal that the Welsh Government are forking out £160 per passenger on flights, while at the same time punishing the most vulnerable in our society by scaling back on bus subsidies.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Assembly Member and consumer watchdog want to hear from park homes residents

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black is asking constituents who live in park homes to make the Welsh consumer watchdog aware of any issues they face so as to provide an evidence-base for his private members bill.

Peter can be e-mailed at or you can write to him at the Welsh Assembly.

Consumer Focus Wales is interviewing individual park homes residents from across Wales about their experiences for their major report, which will be launched in autumn 2012, and want more residents to get in touch to discuss their experiences – both good and bad – of living on a park home site.

Some residents have reported blocking of sales by site operators which causes great financial loss to the park home owner and an easy profit for some rogue site operators. Other residents have spoken to Consumer Focus Wales about their experience of buying a park home, their electricity, gas and water supplies, their written agreement and pitch fees and the quality of life on their park home site.

Consumer Focus Wales is gathering evidence to help to strengthen the protections available for residents in a new bill being drawn up by Mr. Black.

"I am asking residents in my constituency to get in touch with Consumer Focus Wales so we can help combat issues residents face and protect older people from financial abuse,” said Mr. Black. “We want to talk to as many residents as possible, whether they’ve had good experiences or bad. We know that difficulties are caused because park home residents own their home, while a site operator owns the land. Site operators can withhold consent to park home residents reselling their home, although this consent should not be withheld unreasonably. There is evidence that some site owners do this for their own financial gain, which means that home owners can be hit massively in the pocket."

If you know of anyone who would like to take part in this project, please ask them to contact Lowri Jackson, Policy Manager at Consumer Focus Wales, by phoning 029 2078 7108 or