Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats wish all our readers a happy and prosperous 2015.

As the national membership increases and we continue to make progress in council by-elections, we as a party can look forward to a better outcome in the big elections to come than the BBC and some elements of the print media are predicting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Liberal Democrat position on devolution in England

In the wake of the Scottish Referendum result and the Smith Commission process it is right that Government and all political parties should consider the implications for England, and indeed the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Liberal Democrats believe it is now time to set out a reform programme to devolve more powers within England and to address the so called “West Lothian Question.”

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats congratulate the parties in Wales in agreeing on a way forward for devolution in Wales and deprecate the position of the Labour Party in Westminster in not contributing to the Command Paper launched in the Commons today.

The Liberal Democrat party has from its inception been a federal organisation and thus has long experience in its own deliberations in discriminating between regional, national and state interests. The party's contribution to the government's Command Paper may be read at

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Welsh NHS absenteeism rising

Sickness absence levels are on the rise in the Welsh NHS, according to latest statistics, reports WalesOnline.

The Welsh Ambulance NHS Trust fared the worst after 7.8% of contracted hours were lost due to staff absences

Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams has called for the Welsh Government to do more to support “overworked” NHS staff.

She said: “Paramedics do incredibly stressful work around the clock and sickness levels have been high for a long time.

“I can only imagine how demoralising it must be to be doing such an important job but not getting the appropriate support from the Welsh Government.

“Our ambulance service is hugely overstretched and staff are not given the resources they need to serve the people of Wales.

“When I’m talking to nurses, the same issues keep coming up – they feel stressed and over-worked.

“That’s why so many of them are backing my plan for more nurses on our wards, to provide safe nurse staffing levels and reduce dependency on agency nurses as well as increasing staff morale.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Candidate for Aberavon

Aberavon Liberal Democrats have re-selected Helen Ceri Clarke, who stood for the party in the Welsh
General Election, as their candidate for the Westminster election in May 2015.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neath candidate chosen

Neath Liberal Democrats have selected Clare Bentley as their prospective candidate for the UK general election in May 2015. Clare is an administrator, who will shortly be moving from Swansea to Coed Darcy.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Peter Black slams Labour housing record

Wales Online reports that more than 2,000 people in Wales have been on a housing waiting list for more than a decade. Nearly 9,000 people have been waiting for more than five years, the figures suggest

Peter Black, Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales West  and the party's housing spokesman, responds:

“These figures are a stark reminder just how bad the housing shortage is here in Wales. Fifteen years of Welsh Labour in Government has led to literally thousands of people waiting over a decade for a home. It is simply unacceptable that so many people here in Wales have had to put their life on hold until a home is available to them.

“Due to major failings with our NHS and our schools, it often goes unnoticed quite how badly Labour has let people down with regards to housing. Over a decade of inaction has led to an acute housing shortage.

“For too long the Welsh Labour Government has taken a haphazard approach to housing targets. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe the Government’s Housing Act should have included a statutory duty for Government Ministers to set termly targets for the supply of new affordable homes.

“After each Assembly election, a new target must be set, with a duty to review it and report back annually. This issue is so important that these targets should be enshrined in law.

“Many of us are aware of derelict and empty homes in or near our neighbourhood. Not only are they a blight on our communities, but they also, frankly, are a waste of living space. It’s time the Welsh Government developed an empty homes strategy so we can finally put these buildings back into use.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Other People's Money

A Freedom Of Information response reveals that the Welsh Government paid London-based engineering consultancy Arup more than £6.3m from 2010-2011 to advise on the controversial project to divert the M4 round Newport through a SSSI.

Eluned Parrott, the Welsh Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman said the “billion pound mistake” would see Welsh finances “tied up for a generation”.

“It looks increasingly likely that these plans are doomed, so it's time for the Welsh Government to stop wasting public money on it,” she said.

“It’s particularly insulting for taxpayers that not only has £6m already been spent drawing up plans for this road since 2011, but to add insult to injury, the Welsh Labour Government has evasively refused to publish the full conclusions of this expensive, yet flawed, consultation.

“In budget negotiations, the Welsh Lib Dems agreed that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next Assembly elections, and that no construction contract would be awarded.

“The deal means that no irreversible decisions on the M4 can be taken before then, but given the number and cost of the hurdles that need to be overcome, and the enormous environmental damage it would do, surely the best idea would be to shelve it, permanently, now.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Labour government resists calls for NHS investigation

The first minister has dismissed calls for an inquiry into the running of the NHS in Wales.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams repeated her call for an all-party commission, saying: "Labour's-running of the NHS in Wales is nothing short of a national scandal."

She went on:  "it is the Labour-led Welsh Government’s fault that waiting times are increasing and they are not caused by devolution.

She said: “Nurses in Wales have more patients to care for than any other part of the UK. That is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats are campaigning to introduce safe staff nursing levels on our wards to ensure safe and compassionate care in all hospitals. NHS staff work tirelessly, but like patients, they are being failed by the Welsh Labour Government.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Welsh NHS waiting list

New figures reveal that nearly 1,400 patients waited more than a year for hospital treatment and that nine of them have been waiting for more than two years.

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said: “These figures are nothing short of a national disgrace. It is completely unacceptable that nearly 1,400 people are being forced to wait over a year for treatment.

“Month after month we see the Welsh Government’s 36 week target missed. However these figures show the problem is even worse than that. My concern is that the Welsh Labour Government seems entirely clueless on how to turn things around. Waiting lists are piling up and I see little sign of the situation improving.”

The Liberal Democrats have urged the Welsh Government to establish a commission to secure a historic and long-term plan for health and social care in Wales.

Kirsty Williams added: “A commission with cross-party, professional and patient representatives would be able to work together and deal with the strategic problems facing our NHS in Wales. By involving doctors, nurses and patients from the outset, we would ensure that the experiences of those using our frontline health services feed into the efforts to reform our NHS.

“Whether it is inadequate cancer care, poor ambulance response times or dire A&E waiting times, the Welsh Labour Government is failing to provide the health service that patients in Wales deserve.”

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Liberal Democrat social housing benefits policy

Liberal Democrat Party Headquarters has issued the following Q&A, following Andrew George MP's success in the House of Commons yesterday. His "Affordable Homes Bill" has cleared the major hurdle of a Second Reading, which means it can go on to detailed consideration in committee. Among other things, the Bill would practically abolish the iniquities of the coalition's Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy, the so-called Bedroom Tax. Mr George's Private Members Bill has the support of the Labour Opposition as well as the parliamentary Liberal Party.

Why are you doing this now?

We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully. The results of the interim evaluation have now been published and they show some concerning findings such as that 57% of claimants reported cutting back on household essentials. We have protected the vulnerable so far but we now want to reform the policy to protect those people for the long term.

Why haven’t you implemented these changes in government?

We have protected vulnerable groups by providing hard cash for hard cases – £180m in Discretionary Housing Payments last year – not all of which has been spent by councils. We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully and have recently received the interim results of the initial evaluation of the policy. These show that the policy has had an impact on disabled people who need a spare bedroom and we want to ensure that these people are exempted. We also want to ensure that those who have tried to downsize but have not been able to are not penalised. We will make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed.

The Tories don’t agree with you do they?

We will continue to make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed. If we do not reach agreement in this parliament we will commit to these reforms in our manifesto.

What about other groups who are affected (e.g. parents who don’t live with their children but have them to visit regularly)

There would still be a (more limited) pot of Discretionary Housing Payments available for hard cash to cover hard cases. It is already the case, however, that private sector tenants have to pay for a spare bedroom in this circumstance.

Not all disabled people will be covered by your policy?

We are exempting those disabled people who need a spare bedroom or those who live in specially adapted properties. Not all disabled people will need a spare bedroom. We will consult on the detailed guidance.

What about all the other housing benefit reforms? This change doesn’t go far enough.

Between 2000 and 2010 expenditure on Housing Benefit grew by around 50% in real terms. This is clearly unsustainable, particularly at a time when we need to reduce the deficit and build a stronger economy. That is why we have made reforms to the housing benefit system, but it is also why we are working to build more affordable homes. There are also still Discretionary Housing Payments available for vulnerable people.

You are penalising housing associations who can’t build more houses. That isn’t fair, and will mean that they have less funding to build more houses in future.

We recognise it is not fair for people to have a reduction in their housing benefit if they have tried to downsize but have not been offered an alternative property. We believe there needs to be a small incentive on housing associations and local authorities to offer people reasonable alternative accommodation, including encourage people to downsize in order to free up homes for those on housing waiting lists or those living in overcrowded accommodation. This will also be an incentive to look at ways some local authorities have tackled the problem. This includes opportunities to convert larger properties or to encourage house swaps or ‘rent a room’ schemes, which help to prevent homelessness, and encourage people to think about options for getting extra income.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fair funding for Wales

After many years, Welsh Liberal Democrats have now convinced the federal party (currently in coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster) that the unfairness of the Barnett formula (named after a Labour Treasury minister), under which funding for Wales and Scotland is calculated, should be addressed.

Party leader Kirsty Williams writes:

I am pleased to announce today that we have secured our party’s commitment to overhaul the unfair funding system for Wales.  

Going into the General Election, we will pledge that Wales will have fairer funding for the next parliament, which could mean hundreds of millions of pounds extra coming into Wales. 

As we all know, under successive Labour and Tory Governments,  Wales has been underfunded for years.  The last major piece of work on this, the Holtham report, concluded that Wales was losing £300m a year.  That simply is not fair. 
Not only do we recognise that Wales is underfunded, but unlike the Tories, Labour and Plaid, we will actually do something about it. 

This announcement is about Wales getting a fairer deal and we believe this is the quickest and easiest way forward for that to happen.

In Government, we have a proud record of delivery for Wales and we are now the only party that has made a firm commitment to more funding for Wales. 

Once again, the Liberal Democrats are showing that we are the only party in Westminster that will make a positive difference for the people of Wales.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A firm but fair immigration system

Clegg: I’m a believer in the benefits of well-managed immigration.

In a speech today, Nick Clegg set out the policy he expects the party to adopt at Federal Conference in Glasgow in October. A transcript of the speech is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FTSE100 CEO pay falls again as Vince Cable makes an impact

The Manifest–MM&K Annual Survey of Executive Pay shows that the Shareholder Spring has clearly had an effect on remuneration committee thinking. This has been galvanized by regulatory intervention to reinforce investors actions…

The latest survey hows that top pay awards [for FTSE100 CEOs] have reduced for two consecutive years: by -7% in 2013 and -5% in 2012. The findings are from research and analysis of the latest annual reports of FTSE100 companies…

Regulatory intervention has had a galvanising effect. Vince Cable’s efforts and threats of further legislation have helped in the reduction in CEO pay.

We are grateful to Mark Pack for this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Briefing on the new EU Commission President

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission has been surrounded in controversy and conflicting stories in the UK.

What the European Commission is:
The European Commission is the EU’s civil service. It drafts proposals aimed at delivering the policy priorities set by EU member states like Britain, Germany, Spain or Poland. It’s independent and represents the interests of the European Union as a whole. It is small in size (smaller than Birmingham City Council) and it provides the policy expertise necessary to make a reality the political wishes of Prime Ministers and Ministers from around the EU. As well as working with member states it also works with the European Parliament, whose directly elected members (MEPs) are responsible for scrutinising and improving the Commission’s proposals. There are 28 Commissioners, responsible for different policy portfolios in areas where common action at the EU level is deemed to be more effective and efficient than individual member state actions at the national level. The Commission also represents the EU in international negotiations, like trade deals. It acts on the basis of a mandate given to it by national leaders in cases where speaking with one voice is better than speaking with 28 different voices.

What the European Commission is not:
A European Government, which imposes its wishes on member states.

What the European Commission President does:
The President gives political guidance to the Commission and leads the Commission's work in implementing EU policies. He or she represents the Commission in dealings with heads of member states and the European Parliament. The Commission President is also one of the EU’s voices in certain policy areas when dealing with other countries.

What the Commission President does not do:
The Commission President is not the President of the EU, he or she does not have executive powers nor is he or she the one who solely decides the direction the EU goes.

Who is Mr Juncker?
Jean-Claude Juncker is a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, one of the most prosperous EU member states. For about 20 years he was a member of the European Council, the group that brings together Prime Ministers and Presidents from all member states. He was also head of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers and he presided over efforts to reform the way the currency union works after the financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis that engulfed some eurozone countries. He is experienced in consensus-building and seeking compromise, a necessary skill if he is to find a way to accommodate the interests of the member states and the European Parliament when drafting EU policies.

Mr Juncker is not:
An ultra-federalist, out to get the UK. He does advocate closer European integration but does not believe that all member states need to go at the same speed. He was in fact the only candidate for Commission President who listed as one of his objectives finding a way to accommodate British interests and sensitivities.

 Based on a briefing  put together by the European Movement.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

M4 plans a “huge mistake”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister Eluned Parrott has slammed today’s announcement that the ‘black route’ will be followed for the new M4 development.
The statement today by Economy Minister claims that no reasons were provided during the consultation process objecting to the ‘black route’. This ignores environmental concerns raised during the consultation process by Friends of the Earth, the RSPB and Sustrans, and economic concerns raised by the Federation of Small Businesses, as well as the submission by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats prefer the ‘blue route’, which is the redevelopment of the A48 Southern Distributor Road and A4810 Steelworks Access Road. This route was not consulted upon by the Welsh Government in this latest consultation.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister, said:
“This decision is a huge mistake, and completely flies in the face of the environmental and economic issues that have been raised by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and many other organisations throughout this process.
“The consultation process appears to have been nothing more than a sham. The Minister’s claim that there were no reasons why the ‘black route’ could not be adopted completely ignores evidence provided to her by the RSPB, Sustrans and the Federation of Small Businesses.
“There are still huge questions surrounding the economic benefit of this development. Investing the Welsh Government’s entire borrowing powers into one single road leaves no money left for other transport projects like the South Wales Metro, which can provide much greater economic benefit for the whole area.
“Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive, less likely to damage vast swathes of our environment and are academically recommended. It’s shocking that the Welsh Labour Minister is remaining blinkered, ignoring these credible proposals and ploughing ahead regardless.”

Mid and West Wales MEP William Powell has also described the procedure as "misguided".

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ministerial accountability

In the wake of the sacking of Alun Davies, Welsh LibDem leader Kirsty Williams writes:

This week has been one of the most extraordinary since the Welsh Assembly first opened its doors fifteen years ago.

The revelations surrounding Alun Davies as Minister for Natural Resources had begun to die down on Tuesday, following his breaking of the Ministerial Code announced last week. That was until a statement landed in my inbox from the First Minister telling me he’d been sacked.

Reading on, it became clear what had caused his dismissal. After finding out he’d broken the Ministerial Code, Alun Davies immediately went to try and uncover private details of agricultural payments made to myself, our own William Powell and three other Assembly Members. I’m under no doubt that this was an attempt to start a smear campaign against all five of us – all people who had dared to question his behaviour in the Circuit of Wales scandal.

I’m proud to be part of a family that’s been farming in Breconshire for over 100 years – I’ve never hidden that. It’s completely abhorrent that anyone would try and use that background against me or any of my fellow AMs. It was clear that Alun Davies could not keep his job, and I’m glad that he hasn’t.

I’m under no doubt that it isn’t just the credibility of Alun Davies, Carwyn Jones and his Welsh Labour Party that’s been harmed by this episode. The reputation of Welsh politics as a whole has taken a huge knock in the past few weeks, which will affect politicians of all parties.

There is, however, one positive that has come out of this mess. This week, the Assembly’s opposition parties united behind our long-standing call for independent policing of the Ministerial Code in Wales. It’s simply not right that the First Minister plays the role of judge, jury and executioner over issues relating to Welsh Ministers and even himself. The debate we held in the Siambr on Wednesday showed that this scandal has truly hit home with the First Minister, and his opposition to such moves was much more muted this time round.

This scandal was certainly unprecedented in Welsh politics. I just hope that we don’t see anything like it again.

Note: First Minister Carwyn Jones's powers are extensive. In 2007, he appointed himself Counsel General for Wales, a post which hitherto had been assumed to be at arms-length from government.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Local Liberal Democrats condemn council's rubbish handling

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats were informed at their meeting last night that Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council was apparently alone in Wales in not arranging for "catch-up" refuse collections, following yesterday's strike by Unison members. We were also reminded that Neath Port Talbot has the second-highest council tax in Wales, and recently wasted £733,000 on replacing existing wheelie-bins with lower-capacity ones. (The council has not even recouped any of this expenditure by selling on the superseded bins, but instead has rendered them unusable.)

Thus not only will householders have to store a further fortnight's rubbish, but will also have a smaller bin to put it in. Families will have to resort to piling up black bags beside the bins, with all the dangers to hygiene that entails.

It has been noted that the council recommended the use of real nappies instead of disposables, but still had not followed Swansea City Council in providing a nappy collection service, as local campaigner Helen Ceri Clarke has urged.

Monday, June 16, 2014

EU politicians: "nostra culpa"

Sir Menzies Campbell, in this year's Garden Memorial Lecture at the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) confessed that there had been sins on the part of the great and good in the European Union. While confirming his and the party's commitment to the Union, he stressed that reform was needed.

Liberal International reports:
In the lecture, Sir Menzies responded to the result of the recent European Parliamentary Elections in Britain, saying: “[I]t is time for ‘Nostra Culpa’ and acknowledging the failure to press the case for reform of the EU. It is as nihilistic to say that the EU does not need reform as it is to say Britain must either be in or out. (…)Those of us who support [the UK’s] membership of the EU must support its reform if we are to be credible in our advocacy for Britain's continuing engagement in Europe.”

Speaking about the possible result of a British referendum on EU membership, Sir Menzies referred extensively to the repercussions for the UK’s foreign and security policy: “Those who argue for withdrawal seem blind to the consequences for the political as well as economic stability and security which NATO and the EU acting together provide. This is further echoed, for example, in the debate about Scottish independence and similarly characterized by a failure to understand and recognise that separation inevitably means that common values will be replaced by competing interests.”

On the possible consequences of secession for the political situation in Northern Ireland, Sir Menzies admitted that “in achieving the kind of settlement which has been achieved in Northern Ireland (…) the fact that both countries were members of the European Union has been of enormous significance”.

LI Treasurer Robert Woodthorpe Browne, who was present at the lecture with LI Secretary-General Emil Kirjas, commented: “Sir Menzies has given a thoughtful account of the state of the European Union and its future, and emphasised the part that we as liberals must play.”

A video containing the entire Lord Garden Memorial Lecture of Sir Menzies can be seen here. A transcript of the lecture can be found here.

The Lord Garden Memorial Lecture on Global Change is given annually by the British Group of Liberal International  to commemorate Timothy Garden, at the time of his premature death a Liberal Democrat peer,  a former Director of Chatham House and internationally renowned expert on international security. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A few comparisons

ID cards
Published Green Paper proposing a national database of personal details.
Legislated for national database and compulsory ID cards
Repealed database and ID legislation
Public photography
Permitted arrest of anyone taking photographs near public buildings
Repealed the section in question (section 44 of Terrorism Act 2000)
State Pensions
Broke the link between state pension and the wage rate index
Did nothing, resulting in the farce one year of a 75p weekly increase
Established triple-lock: pensions tied to highest of 2.5%, the wage rate index and CPI
Top tax
Cut top rate of tax to 40%
Did nothing for twelve years, then introduced a top rate of 50% which lasted 36 days of their administration.
Set top rate at 45%.
Post Offices
Closed around 7,000  post offices
Closed a further 6,000 post offices
Ended programme of post office closures
Military invasions
Permitted US invasion of Grenada

Joined US in invasion of Iraq
Has resisted direct intervention in Libya, Syria, Iran

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We agree with Kirsty

In response to criticism from Matthew Oakeshott*, Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, has told BBC-Wales:

"Nick has had the courage of his convictions during this election campaign to make a positive case for what the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in.

"I cannot be any clearer.

"I think Nick Clegg is the right person to lead this party into the general election and what we need to do now is re-double our efforts and explain to the people of this country why we took the decision to be in coalition government and what the Liberal Democrats are achieving as part of that government."

*Oakeshott is the former self-appointed treasury spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords who has now left the party.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Care at home: saying one thing and doing another

There has been an increasing trend amongst local councils to require care workers to spend no more than 15 minutes with clients. Fifteen minutes is simply not long enough to respond properly to the needs of those receiving care. First and foremost people want to be treated like human beings. Fifteen minutes is hardly enough time to help get someone out of bed and dressed. Care visits lasting less than a quarter of an hour not only let down patients, but they also let down care workers who can’t offer the full support they would like to.  It is something the Welsh Liberal Democrats have campaigned against.

However, whereas the Labour party at Westminster now claim that they will end '15 minute care', here in Wales, where Labour is in Government, the party has consistently voted against our efforts to end the practice. Figures show that 83% of local authorities in Wales commission 15 minute care visits. As with zero hour contacts, we are seeing Labour say one thing in England, but doing the exact opposite in Wales where they are actually in Government.

Welsh Liberal Democrats want to end this practice, yet at every opportunity Welsh Labour has blocked our plans.

[From an article in Seaside News by Peter Black Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales West]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reforming EU from within (2)

UKIP MEPs abstained on flood prevention measures, too.

There is more here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reform EU from within, say Welsh LibDems

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams and lead candidate Alec Dauncey launched the party's European Parliamentary election manifesto today. Kirsty said of the manifesto, labelled In Europe, In Work, that it makes clear "that being pro-European also means being pro-reform. While we are committed to remaining part of the EU, we are also committed to reforming it.”

There is more on the Freedom Central web site.

Women predominate in Liberal Democrat defences

All those Liberal Democrat constituencies where the current member of the Westminster parliament is standing down have now completed their selection of candidates for the 2015 general election. The list is as follows (name of retiring MP in brackets):

Bath (Don Foster): Steve Bradley

Berwick on Tweed (Sir Alan Beith): Julie Pörksen

Brent Central (Sarah Teather) Ibrahim Taguiri

Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke): Vikki Slade

North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell): Tim Brett

Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce): Christine Jardine

Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell): Lisa Smart

Somerton and Frome (David Heath): Sarah Yong

Monday, May 12, 2014

Salaries of permanent workers growing at fastest rate in 7 years

Research published on Friday shows that the salaries of permanent employees are growing at the fastest rate in 7 years.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG Report on Jobs finds that growth of permanent salaries accelerated in April, the most marked increase since July 2007.

There was also a sharp increase in temporary pay in April, compared with the previous month.

The report also shows fast growth in the number of permanent staff placements.

Commenting on the report's findings, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

"This is yet more encouraging news. It is more evidence of our economy getting stronger, with more and more people in work, getting the opportunities they need to get on in life."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Labour understands the weekly shop as much as they understood the economy

Welsh Government letting down tenants on welfare reforms

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the Welsh Government for letting down tenants on welfare reforms, as only three of the 22 local authorities in Wales applied for extra UK government funding to help mitigate the impact of the spare room subsidy.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats Spokesperson on Social Justice, Peter Black commented:
“The Housing Benefit bill doubled from £11 billion to £22 billion under Labour’s last 10 years of government, which is unaffordable and unsustainable. There are a quarter-of-a-million households living in overcrowded social housing and we subsidise a million spare bedrooms in the social rented sector, so it is clear that the system needs reform.

“Liberal Democrats have consistently worked hard to make sure that changes are made as fairly as possible. We negotiated an extra £30 million per year for the Discretionary Housing Payment fund specifically to help with the removal of the spare room subsidy. We secured exemptions for people in the armed forces, foster carers and disabled children who need their own room. Additional funding was also provided for rural areas, which provided extra support for tenants in Powys, Gwynedd and Ceredigion.

“Sadly tenants in Wales are being let down by the Welsh Labour Government, who are failing to ensure that vulnerable tenants receive the support that has been made available to them through Discretionary Housing Payments.

“Only three of the 22 local authorities in Wales applied for extra UK government funding. Too many tenants are not aware of their right to apply for this support because it is not being properly advertised, tenants simply don’t understand the system or are being forced to jump through unnecessary hoops. Many local councils treat Disability Living Allowance and Child Benefit as a form of income which is also restricting access to this funding.

“Instead of simply bemoaning the welfare reforms, the Welsh Government needs to work with councils to overcome these barriers and help people to get the support and financial assistance they are entitled to. The last thing we want is for this money to be sent back to the Treasury because councils have not been able to spend it where it is needed.”

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It is nonsense to suggest, as the Welsh Conservatives have done, that Liberal Democrats are against reform in Europe.

Liberal Democrats are unambiguously the party of IN. But we know that the EU is perfect, which is why we are committed to remaining part of the EU and reforming it.

Our top 10 priorities for reform are:

1. Creating jobs – Britain pioneered the single market. We should now lead in opening up Europe’s online industries, energy market and services like accountancy, law and architecture where the UK has a competitive edge, creating opportunities for UK firms to expand trade and create jobs.

2. Reforming trade with the world – we will seek to accelerate trade negotiations with the USA, which could be worth up to £10 billion extra to the UK economy each year, and the EU-Japan trade agreement, which could increase UK GDP by £5 billion a year, creating thousands of jobs.

3. Reforming the EU budget – following the UK’s success in cutting £30bn from the EU budget, Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign to reform the budget by reallocating wasteful spending towards job-creating policies such as cross-border energy and transport infrastructure, the digital economy, and research and development.

4. Cutting waste – Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign to bring an end to the waste and travel between the European Parliament cities of Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. This will save £150m and almost 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

5. Cutting red tape – we will support the ‘Think Small First’ principle to reduce unnecessary European Union regulatory costs, which particularly hit smaller businesses. We will demand effective impact assessments before new proposals come forward and exempt smaller businesses from legislation where appropriate.

6. Devolving powers – Liberal Democrats support the principle that decision-making should be “European where necessary, national where possible”. National parliaments should play a greater role in scrutinising EU rules, and where proposals are unacceptable, parliaments should work together to send proposals back to the drawing board.

7. Defending the UK’s interests – the Eurozone countries are an increasingly powerful bloc. The next time there is Treaty Change, we will insist on new legal safeguards guaranteeing that whenever a change impacts on the Single Market, Euro-ins and Euro-outs have an equal say.

8. Fighting 21st century crime - Liberal Democrats would build up the EU’s capacity to tackle cybercrime, and do more with our neighbours to tackle cross-border crimes like VAT fraud, money laundering and the hoarding of criminal assets. And we will push for reforms to the European Arrest Warrant to ensure that civil liberties are protected.

9. Strengthening our defences – more efficient defence co-operation is vital if European powers are to retain significant military capabilities in the face of continuing austerity and uncertain regional security. The European Defence Agency, working together with NATO, should continue to help member states to pool and share military capabilities. There can be no ‘European army’, and UK Parliament must always have the final say on the use of force.

10. Tackling climate change – Liberal Democrats want to introduce ambitious reforms to combat climate change by agreeing an EU-wide 40% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (50% if there is a global deal) and revamping the Emissions Trading Scheme to introduce a working carbon market, giving investors the certainty they need.

This approach was emphasised in a speech which Nick Clegg gave at a Reuters function yesterday.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Europe Day

Get the facts about the EU here.

There's also a reminder of some busted myths here.

LibDems in Europe help cut mobile charges

EU laws, championed by Lib Dems, have cut the price of using data while on holiday by 80%

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Icelandic bank money still blocked

A report to go before the Policy & Resources Cabinet Board today reveals that over £1m of council taxpayers' money is still tied up in Iceland.

The Icelandic Bank scandal broke in October 2008. Labour-dominated Neath Port Talbot council had put at risk £20m, the highest in Wales, and among the highest in the UK. Almost 95% of this has been recovered, thanks largely to efforts by the Local Government Association, but the amount lost in interest is incalculable, though clearly dwarfed by the fees paid to accountancy firms involved in the recovery.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Help keep Wales in the EU on 22nd May

Celebrate ten years of an enlarged Europe by helping to keep Britain in the EU.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Welsh Government job figures challenged by Liberal Democrats

Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat speaker on business and Europe, has exposed statistical flaws in the claims made by Carwyn Jones for the Labour Welsh Government's Jobs Growth scheme.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Myth-busting bust

UKIP published a series of EU “myth busters” which either don’t add up, or don’t bust the “myth” they refer to. It’s worth noting the hyperlinks which are suspiciously missing from the UKIP “myth busting”.
Here we go through step by step to show, with facts, why UKIP is wrong.

MYTH 1. Britain would lose out on millions of jobs if we left the EU.
UKIP FACT: This is a common deceit. In fact, the EU would lose 4 millions jobs if it ceased trading with the UK, it’s biggest customer. The EU sells more to us than we sell to it. In 2009 there was a trade deficit of £34.9bn; in 2011, that deficit was nearly £50bn.
THE TRUTH: We have a trade deficit in goods with the EU. When services are included we have a trade surplus, so we wouldn’t be in the best negotiating position.
A November 2013 poll of businesses by Business for Britain found that 5% of small businesses, 8% of medium-sized and 9% of large firms think they would close if Britain left the EU. That amounts to 53,000 businesses employing 1.5million people. Here is the polling data (pdf). Here is The Times covering the story.

MYTH 2. Tariff barriers will exclude us from trade with the EU.
UKIP FACT: The EU has free trade agreements with 53 countries to overcome such tariffs, and is negotiating a further 74.
THE TRUTH: We would, of course, still be able to trade with the EU, but there would be some tariff barriers. The Economist said that under WTO rules:
“British dairy exports would incur an import tax of 55% to reach the EU market, with tariffs on some items of more than 200%. Cheddar cheese would face a tariff of €167 per 100kg; the mark-up on Stilton would be €141. Average tariffs on clothing would push up their price in European markets by 12%. Parts of Britain’s car industry would move out. British-based producers would face a 4% tariff on car-equipment sales to the EU.”
Britain would also eventually face non-tariff barriers. EU exports account for 14% of our GDP but we wouldn’t have a single vote over the rules for those exports. Therefore, the rules would start to be unfavourable to British exports.

MYTH 3. Britain cannot survive economically outside the EU in a world of trading blocs.
UKIP FACT: Major economies such as Japan (the world’s third largest) are not in a trading bloc. Our best trading relationships are not within the EU, but outside, with countries like the USA and Switzerland.
THE TRUTH: Our biggest trading partner is the rest of the EU. Japan is actually in talks to join a large trade bloc (the Asia-Pacific free-trade bloc) having spent the last two decades in economic crisis. It is also negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU.

MYTH 4. The EU is moving towards the UK’s position on cutting regulation and bureaucracy.
UKIP FACT: Once in place, EU directives are highly unlikely to be reformed or repealed. Less than 15% of Britain’s GDP represents trade with the EU yet Brussels regulations afflict 100% of our economy. In 2010, Open Europe estimated EU regulation had cost Britain £124 billion since 1998.
THE TRUTH: This is just assertion. The EU’s REFIT programme which is ongoing has resulted in the Commission screening all EU legislation to simplify it and to reduce the burden. As a result regulations have been scrapped. Britain has been a key supporter for this programme.
Recently, the EU exempted small businesses from accounting requirements. A welcome step to reduce bureaucracy.
EU Commission guidelines stipulate that it will not introduce legislation where the economic burden outweighs the benefits after a public consultation and rigorous impact assessment.

MYTH 5. If we leave, we’ll have to pay the EU billions and implement all its regulations without a say.
UKIP FACT: We have little say within the EU, and would have more leverage as an independent sovereign nation. Now, we have only 8.4% of voting power ‘say’ in the EU. Our 73 MEPs are a minority within the 766 in the European Parliament.
THE TRUTH: UKIP haven’t busted the myth at all. Norway has implemented ¾ of EU laws, without a say in the content of a single one of them. Its citizens also pay 79% of what British citizens pay for membership.

MYTH 6. The EU has brought peace to the European continent.
UKIP FACT: It is NATO, founded in 1949 and dominated by the USA, and not the EU, that has actually kept the peace in Europe, together with parliamentary democracy. Both of which are being undermined by the EU.
THE TRUTH: NATO was set up to stop the Soviet Union invading Western Europe. The EU was set up to stop France and Germany going to war again. The EU has also been the biggest advocate and force for parliamentary democracies in Europe and has enabled many former dictatorships (such as Greece, Spain and Portugal) to become democracies.

MYTH 7. The EU has a positive impact on the British economy.
UKIP FACT: Industries like fishing, farming, postal services and manufacturing have been devastated by our membership of the EU which costs billions of pounds and large numbers of lost jobs thanks to red tape, substantial membership and aid contributions and other costs.
THE TRUTH: The National Farmers Union has been supportive of a number of EU measures, including the recently signed free trade deal with Canada which will create a huge export market for British farmers. A deal the size of which we simply wouldn’t have got on our own.

MYTH 8. We’ll lose foreign investment if we leave the EU.
UKIP FACT: In a 2010 survey on UK’s attractiveness to foreign investors, Ernst and Young found Britain remained the top Foreign Direct Investment destination in Europe thanks to the City of London and the UK’s relationship with the US.
THE TRUTH: Many investors into the UK including Nissan and Ford motor companies have said they would reconsider investment if the UK left the EU.
A UK Government analysis has said: “EU membership has contributed to FDI growth in the UK by reducing access costs to a larger market, enabling greater economies of scale and returns on investment, increasing competition and facilitating agglomeration.”
“More than 1,300 Japanese companies have invested in the UK, as part of the single market of the EU, and have created 130,000 jobs, more than anywhere else in Europe. This fact demonstrates that the advantage of the UK as a gateway to the European market has attracted Japanese investment.”

MYTH 9. We will lose influence in the world by being outside the EU
UKIP FACT: Britain has a substantial ‘portfolio of power’: membership of the G20 and G8 Nations, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and seats on the International Monetary Fund Board of Governors and World Trade Organisation. We are at the heart of the 54-nation Commonwealth.
THE TRUTH: Whether it’s negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran or leading the world to an agreement on climate change, the EU provides Britain with a louder voice and more influence in the world.

MYTH 10. Legally, we can’t leave the EU.
UKIP FACT: Britain could leave the EU in a single day by repealing the European Communities Act 1972 and its attendant Amendment Acts through a single clause Bill passing through Westminster. A replacement UK/EU Free Trade Agreement would not need time-consuming negotiation on tariff reductions if it merely replicated existing EU trade arrangements.
THE TRUTH: This isn’t a myth we’ve heard before. Maybe they ran out at 9?

Thanks to Catherine Bearder MEP and to British Influence for the rebuttals above. As to Myth 10, it is possible after the Lisbon Treaty for nations to withdraw from the European Union.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Leaving the EU poses “very significant risks” to UK’s future

Two new reports commissioned by independent financial services membership body, TheCityUK show that leaving the European Union poses significant risks to Britain's future. This latest research suggests that exiting the EU would undermine Britain's economic well-being and the ability of business to grow and compete in world markets.

The reports also found that the EU has a positive impact on driving UK trade, high productivity and growth.

Read more here.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

EU provides international trade muscle

Over 60% of UK exports are covered by EU trade agreements. This will rise to 85% when all deals are completed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Liberal Democrat leader launches European Parliament elections campaign

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has today launched the Liberal Democrats’ 2014 European election campaign. The Liberal Democrats are now the only party truly campaigning to keep Britain IN Europe. Back our campaign here

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The truth about Ukip's immigration billboards

Yesterday Ukip published billboards designed to scare people about the impact that being in Europe has on immigration.

The Liberal Democrats believe that it is right to tackle concerns about immigration, but spreading fear and bogus claims is not the answer.

Instead, we are working to deliver better immigration checks and more job opportunities. That’s why we have created 1.6 million apprenticeships, helping young people in Britain find work.

We believe it's time to tell the truth about immigration.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joan Davies

There is an obituary for Joan Davies by her son in today’s Guardian:
 Joan stood as a Liberal in South Wales for the European Parliament in the 1980s.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Green voting records in the European Parliament

Climate Action Network Europe rates MEPs on their 2009-2014 voting records
on climate and energy policies:

Very Good

100%  Brian SIMPSON (LP)
100%  Caroline LUCAS* (GP)
100%  David MARTIN (LP)
100%  Derek VAUGHAN (LP)
100%  Martina ANDERSON* (SF)
100%  Peter SKINNER (LP)
90%  Andrew DUFF (LDP)
90%  Catherine STIHLER (LP)
90%  Jill EVANS (PC-PoW)
90%  Linda McAVAN (LP)
90%  Mary HONEYBALL (LP)
90%  Richard HOWITT (LP)
89%  Keith TAYLOR* (GP)
80%  Arlene McCARTHY (LP)
80%  Baroness Sarah LUDFORD (LDP)
80%  Catherine BEARDER (LDP)
80%  Claude MORAES (LP)
80%  Edward McMILLAN-SCOTT (LDP)
80%  Fiona HALL (LDP)
80%  Glenis WILLMOTT (LP)
80%  Jean LAMBERT (GP)
80%  Sharon BOWLES (LDP)
80%  Sir Graham WATSON (LDP)
75%  Rebecca TAYLOR* (LDP)


70%  Stephen HUGHES (LP)
60%  Alyn SMITH (SNP)
60%  Bill NEWTON DUNN (LDP)
60%  Chris DAVIES (LDP)
60%  George LYON (LDP)
60%  Ian HUDGHTON (SNP)
50%  Diana WALLIS* (LDP)
50%  Elizabeth LYNNE* (LDP)
50%  Michael CASHMAN (LP)


33%  Bairbre de BRÚN* (SF)
30%  Ashley FOX (CP)
30%  Charles TANNOCK (CP)
30%  Emma McCLARKIN (CP)
30%  Geoffrey VAN ORDEN (CP)
30%  James ELLES (CP)
30%  Julie GIRLING (CP)
30%  Kay SWINBURNE (CP)
30%  Malcolm HARBOUR (CP)
30%  Martin CALLANAN (CP)
30%  Philip BRADBOURN (CP)
30%  Robert STURDY (CP)
30%  Struan STEVENSON (CP)
30%  Timothy KIRKHOPE (CP)
30%  Vicky FORD (CP)
25%  Anthea McINTYRE* (CP)
25%  Phil BENNION* (LDP)
20%  Daniel HANNAN (CP)
20%  Giles CHICHESTER (CP)
20%  Jacqueline FOSTER (CP)
20%  James NICHOLSON (UCU)
20%  Nirj DEVA (CP)
20%  Richard ASHWORTH (CP)
20%  Sajjad KARIM (CP)
20%  Sir Robert ATKINS (CP)
20%  Syed KAMALL (CP)
10%  Marta ANDREASEN (CP)
10%  Nick GRIFFIN (BNP)
0%  Andrew Henry William BRONS (BDP)
0%  Derek Roland CLARK (UKIP)
0%  Diane DODDS (DUP NI)
0%  Gerard BATTEN (UKIP)
0%  Godfrey BLOOM (UKIP)
0%  John BUFTON (UKIP)
0%  John Stuart AGNEW (UKIP)
0%  Nicole SINCLAIRE (WDR)
0%  Nigel FARAGE (UKIP)
0%  Paul NUTTALL (UKIP)
0%  Roger HELMER (UKIP)
0%  Trevor COLMAN (UKIP)
0%  William (The Earl of) DARTMOUTH (UKIP)

Frank Little writes:
Hats off to Jill Evans (Plaid) and Derek Vaughan (Labour), but of the UK mainstream, the Liberal Democrat party is the most consistent in supporting green measures. The "very bad" group is dominated by UKIP and the Conservatives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fraudster who fled Britain has been returned and put behind bars

Thanks to the European Arrest Warrant, a member of a Nottingham-based crime gang who fled the UK to avoid prison has been returned to Britain to start a five-year jail sentence.


Magdalena Ferkova was part of a crime group that stole large amounts of public money. She had flown vulnerable foreign nationals to the UK to act as ‘benefit tourists’, illegally claiming over a million pounds in tax credits and Child Benefit. After luring the individuals to the UK and forcing them to make applications, Ferkova sent the claimants home.

Four other members of the gang were sentenced in November, however, Ferkova fled Britain during her trial. A European Arrest Warrant was issued the following month and she was finally captured in the Czech Republic and returned to Britain.

If it weren’t for Britain being IN Europe, the European Arrest Warrant would not exist here and Magdalena Ferkova would still be on the run, possibly committing more crimes.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

UKIP MEPs vote against tackling tax evasion

Interesting vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday about tackling tax fraud, tax evasion and tax havens. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour (582-35), with all the Lib Dem MEPs in the 582. And in amongst the 35? All the UKIP MEPs.

Friday, April 04, 2014

European Parliament votes to cap credit card fees

MEPs yesterday voted for an EU cap on card payment fees, which are estimated to cost retailers in the EU over £8 billion each year.

The European Parliament negotiating position, in line with the proposal from the European Commission, favours a cap of 0.3% of the transaction on credit card purchases. But Parliament goes even further than the Commission proposal on debit card fees with a cap of either 7cents (6p) or 0.2% of the transaction value on debit card purchases, whichever is lower. These caps would also be applied to both cross-border and domestic payments.

Research by the EU has shown that a cap in fees could provide retailers with nearly £5 billion in savings and lead to lower consumer prices. However, Parliament is now waiting for the Member States to finalise their negotiating position before such caps can become law.

Liberal Democrat MEP and Chair of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Sharon Bowles, commented: "Each year businesses suffer from unregulated and unjustifiably high fees when a customer chooses to pay by card.

"Capping these transaction fees will mean businesses can and should be able to pass on savings to consumers, which will directly benefit households up and down the country and contribute to economic growth and consumer confidence.

"As the Party of In, Liberal Democrats want to strengthen and protect our vital trade links with the rest of the EU. By cutting unnecessary costs for businesses the UK can increase its competitiveness within the Single Market."

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Which is worse: phytophthora or Neath Port Talbot's contractors?

Frank Little writes:
What should have been a controlled response to a possible attack by the larch fungus seems to have turned into wholesale clearance in Craig Gwladus. There is a report by Cadoxton photographer Mike Davies on the Neath Guardian website.

We should be interested to learn what action councillors Annette Wingrave (Cadoxton) and Doreen Jones (Aberdulais) are taking.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The party president writes

Here is part of Tim Farron MP's commentary on the LBC debate:

Nigel Farage made that awful statement that the EU ‘has blood on its hands’ in the Ukraine. He seemed to be reading the Kremlin’s ‘talking points’. I personally could not believe that his hatred of the EU is so deep and so myopic that he was prepared to side with Vladimir Putin against the people of Ukraine.

I cannot understand that mind-set. I cannot understand how you can side with Putin because you hate the EU so much. It wasn’t just a crass throw away remark, it was offensive to the thousands of protesters (as well as the families of the 100 murdered protesters) who stood up for values that we should share and support.

Paddy said Mr Farage had shown “inexperience” in world affairs and he’s right. But isn’t that deeply concerning for a party leader and MEP of 15 years standing? I compare him to our MEPs – Catherine Bearder, Edward Macmillan-Scott, Sharon Bowles. There is no comparison. They are people of substance. Nigel Farage is not.

I know that in the next debate Nick will win again. Not just because the arguments are on our side, but because when the public hear our arguments, put forward by a brave politician making the case that so many others are too timid to make, they will be won over.

Britain is better in, than out. Britain is stronger in the world within the EU. That’s why I agree with Nick.