Tuesday, March 31, 2009
First there was a report in last weekend's Telegraph of a new breed of 'caring' people who have started to arrive at sanctuaries offering to take home rescued unwanted animals. They say that they really want them. And they are asking a new sort of question. It used to be things like "It it safe and what does it eat". Now its "Is it safe to eat". And why not I say. Why not unwanted dogs and cats as well. When I was a young man, I was horrified by the thought of eating a horse - like a horse yes, but not eating an actual horse. But after tucking into what I thought was a nice sirloin steak on a rugby tour to France and Holland - which turned out to be a slice of horse, I changed my mind. Haven't eaten horse since though, but now its not on principle. When I was very young, and had cried watching Bambi, I could never imagine eating deer. But venison is now one of my top choices.
Now I've never eaten grey squirrel (or rats, which I bracket with these horrible pests). But 'Terrine Nutkin' is very much on the menu in Angesey. In this week's Telegraph magazine, Carolyn Hart informs us that this delicacy tastes like a cross between duck and game pate. Grey Squirrel pate with hazelnuts and frangelico is available from the award winning food company, Patchwork Pate. And its free - except that you have to make a donation to Friends of Anglesey Red Squirrels.
All this does raise interesting questions. Why is it acceptable to eat rabbit, hare, wild boar, the beautiful Grey Partridge, frogs legs, Bambi and cuddly lambs - but not cats, dogs, badgers, foxes, moles, tortoises and grey squirrels? So 'Eat Squirrel Nutkin and Save the Red Squirrel'.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I'm told that the problem revolved around the future of the existing 'Business Eye' employees. The Council believed they were being transferred to 'Business in Focus' (on the same terms and conditions) - while the latter believed no such thing. It seems the contract was awarded on terms so noncommercial that the tender winner cannot proceed. On the surface, there appears to have been something shambolic about the way that this has been handled. The Assembly Government may well say that this turn of events has come as a complete surprise - which would not be true. I wrote to the Assembly's Business Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones about ten days ago outlining the problem. No reply of course.
If all this is true (and I believe it is) we should know about it, and I would expect there to be one almighty row. Lets hope this post will enable the sniffer dogs in the Welsh media to start poking around tomorrow and find out what's been happening - and lets local business know where it should go for advice from this week.
The second plant that caught my eye was this corylopsis - so colourful and so early. This shrub is about 8 feet high. There are various types of Corylopsis and they are not expensive or difficult to grow. Such early colour makes them a must.
And today's final choice is a fairly old, and rather unexciting Pieris - but I like it. We grow lots of different types of Pieris, but the best remains Pieris forrestii, which will feature in a future post when its bright red bracts are out (frosts permitting). Pieris bracts follow the flowers, and in some species are much more spectacular.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Particularly sorry to miss the Electoral Commission fringe meeting. I was due to outline my thoughts on how voters trust in politics can be improved. A tall order, you might say. Anyway, I left Daran Hill of Positif Politics to tackle the subject on his own. Must admit that I'd not thought about it that much, but if I had been there, I would have based my contribution on two general themes - paying politicians in a fair and open way, and calling on politicians to answer questions by the public properly.
The most important issue is how we pay our politicians. As a nation, we have to decide what its reasonable to pay those we elect to represent us. Of course there are those who would never be satisfied, but there have been payments which look so unreasonable that they should never have been paid. We've seen plenty of examples in the media (and No, I'm not going there). And there are some entirely legal payments which are quite shocking. An example is the £10,000 per annum Communications Allowance which is no more than a re-election support fund.
The salary element is easy to deal with. An independent system must be established to decide on salary levels, with no involvement of politicians themselves whatsoever. We cannot have the payment of spurious 'responsibility allowances', decided by the politicians themselves, as a backdoor way of boosting pay. The position has deteriorated to such an extent that the concept of 'honourable' is no longer good enough.
There are two approaches to dealing with the 'allowances' issue. Most people want to prescribe more clearly what should constitute an acceptable allowance. Well yes, but no good on its own. The real key in transparency. In my opinion every payment should be made public. Every politician should be put in a position where they have to ask the question "What will my constituents think of this" before any claim on public money is made. Some things which have been bought in the past, would not be bought in future. It will not be comfortable, as members of the National Assembly for Wales have discovered. But there is no other way of building trust with voters.
The other major change we need is to language. Listeners will only give you trust, if they believe you are saying what you honestly think. This is not easy, and it would help if there were more free votes. I fully accept the importance of a three line whip. The alternative is chaos. But personally, I would like to see more freedom to speak according to conscience. And politicians must start answering the question. I saw (I think) Angela Eagle on Newsnight a few days ago. She was simply awful - refusing point blank to answer Paxman's questions. I just shouted at the TV, "Why the h*** did you go on". She was on with Phillip Hammond who always makes Paxman look rude and boorish, by his polite and relevant answers to questions.
If you've got any other ideas let me know. I'll check with Daran in the morning how the fringe meeting went.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Unfortunately this tendency to make up the news is spreading. Earlier this week Mrs D started calling me Victor Meldrew. The insufferably giggly duo on breakfast television were rattling on about about how inflation had fallen to zero, and deflation was upon us. Despite the fall of RPI being significantly less than expected, and the more reliable CPI actually going up to 3.2%. Return of inflation was the story. But this would not have fitted in with No 10's press release about the desperate need for another fiscal stimulus. Inevitably, when the Internet started pointing this out, the BBC was forced to change its line.
Same sort of trends are affecting our Council's press offices. Powys Council (where I live) has a good press officer, but he's going to lose control over news management, unless there's a change of approach. "I'll get back to you" is no longer good enough. Conservative press supremo in Wales, Richard Hazlewood responds immediately. He knows that if he doesn't, somebody else will. There are going to be people like me, who have established information links, and will post stories on the Internet immediately - if we think they are in the public interest that is. That's how it should be.
First sign of change in Powys was a while ago when the Council discovered that dozens of its teachers had not been CRB checked. It was decided to keep this secret for a while for some reason - but next day it appeared on the BBC. The Council then wasted thousands trying to discover the identity of the whistle blower - who in my opinion deserved an award. This was a sign of things to come.
And now we have this cleaning lady named Edna Mopbucket who telephones me with all sorts of gossip. She even telephoned me this week about two officers "B***ink in the office". So happens that I'm only interested in what's in the public interest - so nothing like that gets posted. With 73 Councillors there is no chance of anything remaining secret. I've always worked on the theory if two others know, its as good as public. The only way to stop leaks is to not keep things secret. And our main stream news providers had better start giving it to us straight - and not just reporting faithfully what's written in the press release. And this is because of the Internet. Long live freedom of speech.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The people of Montgomeryshire really should know about this stuff - so like Vaughan, I'll give you a flavour of what his political reflections which he is so angry is not available to his fellow-MPs, while they sit at their office computers.
"Drinking is about attitudes so I suggest an advertising campaign starring Daily Sport babes. It could feature my friend Lucinda warning "If you're out chugging I'm not hugging". That might sober up the male population.
My bubbly buddy, Nicole Shamier (we're just good friends by the way) spends evenings in watching Panorama while I'm busy researching stories for the Daily Sport, out with my chums Gemma and Ashlea Massey.....But just think...... If my delightful friend, Gemma cocked up her pension contributions, should she privatise herself? And if her lovely sister Ashlea was in debt, should she be nationalised? NEVER. In my book, these lovely ladies should always belong in the bosom of the Sport."
Tell me what you think of this. Hope I don't need to remind you that anything tasteless or libellous will not be allowed.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Edna and I were chatting ever so casually about the need to maintain public investment at 'the sharp end' and make at least some of the inevitable mega-cuts that are about to detonate under local authorities, when she told me that discussions are going on about a joint Chief Executive for Powys County Council and the Powys Local Health Board. I nearly dropped the phone. "You must be joking" said I. "How on earth could a 'healthcare' executive run a local authority" I added. "No reason why not" she said. "After all, the only thing the last Chief Executive had run was a ship, and Powys hasn't even got a coastline". Must admit I was a bit stumped by this.
The more I think about this, the more I like it. I'm sick of just reading about cuts in public services. The top tier must take a share of the pain as well. The main requirement to be a Chief Executive is the ability to manage, and to squeeze the best out of people, whether that's a Council or a LHB. And why not take it further. Why not have the LHB contract with the Council for HR services say - or vice-versa perhaps. Or some other administrative function. Or if this doesn't work, why don't two or three councils share a Chief Executive. They expect schools to share a headteacher. I think Edna could have opened a major public debate here. And not for the first time. But I'd wager a dead rabbit and a lame cat that the answer will be "No comment" if the media ask if there's any truth in this. But don't worry, Edna will divulge the secrets.
The meeting, billed as a 'Question Time' started with a welcome from Gary Wright, Vice-Chairman of Montgomeryshire YFC. Last time I saw Gary, he was competing in the County YFC 'Question Time' Competition, where I was the adjudicator. The subject dropped in his lap was to discuss whether breast feeding should be encouraged. Gary was very enthusiastic, in part because its such an effective practice in his sheep flock. So enthusiastic in fact, that he did not think women should be allowed to breed unless they are able to suckle. Its amazing what people will say when they have to speak without notice. Gary is never going to live it down.
Chair for the evening was the ultra smooth Arfon Haines Davies, and the discussions were kicked off by the even smoother Convention head honcho, Sir Emyr Jones Parry. Lots of negative about the Assembly to start with - mainly because most of us think Mid Wales is treated as some forgotten outpost. Arfon handed out a little hand held voting pad which looked a bit like one of those bowel cancer testing kits that are arriving on the doorsteps of the over 60s at the moment. Almost 90% voted for the proposition that Mid Wales does not get a fair deal from Cardiff Bay.
But I was impressed that everyone seemed to understand that the choice before us is to retain the current 'bit by bit' system of transfering 'primary' law-making power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay, or to transfer it all in one go (conditional on approval in a referendum of course). Because of the initial negativity, I was surprised that the meeting voted comfortably in favour of the latter.
I enjoyed my two hours as a panellist. Thought I'd done OK. But there's always one set of eyes and ears looking to deflate me. A man named David Peter had ventured North from Llandrindod Wells, and has informed the world that I used the F-word in an answer - 'federal' that is. My long held opinion is that in devolutionary Britain, there must be some form of specifically 'English' control over devolved issues in England - if not an English Parliament. My personal preference is that MPs representing English constituencies should sit on one day each week as a Parliament within a P arliament, dealing with devolved matters. I also said that this is, combined with law making powers for the National Assembly constitutes a 'de facto' move towards a 'federal' constitution. Seems kind of obvious to be, but David thought my comment was worth a post. All in all, it was a useful meeting (No curry) which left me more hopeful that a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly might actually be about the question on the ballot paper.
I'm sure many of you find this a rather sad little photograph. And I confess that baby bunnies are so cute that even my flinty old heart feels some compassion - which dissolves as soon as the echinaceas start to shoot. Anyway, the sight of this pathetic little 'body' on our doorstep today visited great joy upon our household. It was Doody's way of announcing that she's back.
Regular readers will know that two gorgeous cats, Andy and Doody have recently moved in with us - and that Doody immediately sustained serious damage to her leg, (which necessitated a substantial investment on my part to repair I might add). We've been worried about her, and have wondered whether she would ever recover her hunting prowess. She must have overheard - and here is her response. Even in death there can be joy.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I must own up to having been a bit disrespectful about the All Wales Convention in the past. Not about the 16 great and good people who make up what's called the Convention Executive Committee, but about the absence of a clear purpose. I have described it variously as a 'Mechanism for delay', 'A grand body in search of a purpose', and as 'An escape route for Ieuan Wyn Jones' - when he finally informs his party that there is no intention of holding a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly for Wales. Yes, that's the referendum that Ieuan promised his party members and activists would be held before 2011 - the clinching trump card he used to persuade them to allow him the doubtful privilege of 'propping up' Rhodri Morgan in office for yet another term as First Minister. Hell need a damn good excuse when he tells them 'it was only an aspiration'. That word again.
Not sure what to expect tomorrow night though. Last week, I was a guest at a dinner party of friends in Berriew, when two of them started talking about the meeting. They announced that they intended going, with the intention of informing the Convention that they think devolution is an abomination, and the whole damn shooting match should be blown up. I didn't ask whether they thought that the politicians should be evacuated first. Anyway, it should be fun, when they see me on the stage to answer their questions. If I survive, I will report back. Tomorrow, Tuesday, in the Monty Club at 6.30. See you there. And I promise once again that tomorrow's post will be my last on this subject.
Lets recap, beginning on Oct 1st 2007. George Osborne electrified the national political debate by promising that the next Conservative Government would increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1,000,000 - paying for it with a tax on non-domiciles. I approved of this, and so did a huge number of others. The announcement delivered two significant impacts. It is widely thought that it put the wind up Gordon Brown so much that he called off the General Election which he had led us all to believe was about to be called. The second impact was that the Chancellor, Alistair Darling sought to shoot the Conservative fox by introducing changes to inheritance tax rules of his own. These changes, which I also approved of (as far as they went) have been enacted - a good example of the Conservatives driving Labour policy!
And then we discovered that the Labour Government has so mismanaged our economy that the next Government will inherit a financial mess worse than anything previously seen in British history. An incoming Conservative Government will be obliged to fulfil its historic role of 'clearing up' after Labour. We do not yet know just how much of a disaster it is going to be. What we do know is that Government borrowing is greater than anything ever imagined in peacetime. The British people are beginning to realise that it may take years to restore our public finances to anything like a sound position. The context in which tax reductions can be considered, even when fully costed, has been transformed.
All that Ken Clarke seems to have said is that on assuming office, faced with such a horror situation, it would be unwise to regard increasing inheritance tax thresholds as the immediate priority. But it will remain a firm commitment in our manifesto for the first period of Conservative government. What really gets me is the sheer gall of Labour Ministers who describe Tory tax plans as being in a state of confusion. Talk about brass neck. They have no shame. Bearing in mind that its Labour Ministers that have comprehensively destroyed the British economy, its a bit damn rich to criticise opposition efforts to set out a strategy for reconstructing the edifice which they have reduced to ruins. Today's reports of Conservative divisions are pathetic spin - about the only activity that Labour remain good at.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Full Back ..... Lee Byrne - with Delon Armitage in close pursuit, and Rob Kearney to tour as well.
Wings ..........Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams - with Mark Cueto and a punt on Thom Evans for the midweek side. (Luke Fitzgerald and Mark Jones unlucky)
Centres.........Brian O'Driscoll and Gavin Henson - with Riki Flutey and Tom Shanklin for midweek (Jamie Roberts and Gordon D'Arcy would also be ok)
Stand off........Stephen Jones is out on his own - O'Gara or Hook for midweek, though we shouldn't forget Cipriani if he's back on song for Wasps.
Scrum Half.....Mike Phillips - and both Mike Blair and Harry Ellis for the reserve team.
Hooker.........Lee Mears - with Rees for midweek (Flannery unlucky)
Props...........Gethin Jenkins and Euan Murray - with Sheridan and Adam Jones for midweek.
Second row...Paul O'Connell, Paul O'Connell and Paul O'Connell plus Alun-Wyn Jones - with Donnacha O'Callaghan and Jason White for midweek.
Back Row......Martyn Williams, Jamie Heaslip and Ryan Jones - with James Haskell, Tom Croft, Stephen Ferris, Denis Leamy and David Wallace to go on the tour.
That makes a tour party of 36 - 13 from Wales, 9 from England, 10 from Ireland and 4 from Scotland. Well I am Welsh !!!
But we played our part. We pushed Ireland all the way to the tape, but they had 'destiny' playing for them. Gavin Henson, Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips (that wild bullocking charge in the second half was amazing), Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins stood out for me - but every player on the field deserves praise for total commitment. Well done Ireland. No 3 son, Tim's wife, Adrienne's little frame (she's from Macroom, and was just two seats from me) was bursting with the pride that her nation felt. I'm only sorry for No 1 son, Edward who works in Cork and has been boasting for weeks about how many we were going to put over them. Serves him right, I said. Never pays to be too cocky where the Irish are concerned.
Oh yes, and England beat Scotland, and France walloped Italy - both results of little relevance, unless you're one of these who get worked up about positions in the championship. I cannot raise any excitement about this stuff at all. And I have always said this, before you spit out the words 'sour grapes'. For my generation, what mattered was the game you were playing. In fact when I played rugby seriously, there were no leagues. It was just the quality of your fixture list. If you lost to a team too often, they would just stop playing you. Next post will be early thought on Lions selection.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The tanker that came in today is 315 metres long, and 50 metres wide. And its not the biggest!! Think about this for a minute. There were going to be 14 of them I think, and they are bigger than any other tanker ever built. I've watched this film clip three times already, keeping the dimensions in my mind. Its truly astounding.
There were always some objectors. There always are - and they were my constituents. But I never had the slightest doubt that the project was right for Milford Haven, right for Wales and right for Britain. In my opinion, liquefied natural gas is a whole lot safer than nuclear power - and there is no option but to move forward as quickly as is reasonably possible down that road as well.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Turns out that the transfer of power wouldn't have made a lot of difference anyway. There was never any intention to abolish the right-to-buy. That was just a 'macho', eye-catching gesture - or worse (a tactic to demonstate that the current constitutional position is failing). And the power to deliver more affordable housing in Wales has been rendered largely irrelevant by the collapse in the ability of potential buyers to secure a mortgage. Neither would there be much scope to increase the supply of social housing - because of the massive cutbacks in public spending that are facing local authorities and the Assembly Government over the foreseeable future. The real damage that this saga will have done is not to the provision of more affordable housing in Wales, but to the power transfer system incorporated in the 2006 Government of Wales Act more generally.
I hope that the fiasco over the proposal to transfer power over housing (the Legislative Competence Order) will ensure a more conciliatory approach to the process of transferring power to the Assembly in future. It is so damaging to the devolution 'process' that the already complex system is made worse by completely unnecessary dispute.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
This would easily be possible to become all puffed up reading such nice things written about oneself. Except that there are some quite derogatory statements about those who represent existing political parties - which includes me of course. I am being invited to establish within my own body a political battleground. I think its best if I write back to inform Paul Judge and his team that I'm already taken, and have sold my soul to the Conservative Party.
If I had been interested in becoming a candidate for The Jury Team, I would have been required to pledge support for three principles.
1) Government should be run for the benefit of the people and not for the benefit of any political party.
2) MPs and MEPs should vote according to their view of what is best for the country and their constituents.
3) Politicians should fully comply with the Nolan Principles of Public Life.
Also enclosed was a 'Handbook', which looked a bit like the Owner's Manual that came with Mrs D's Merc. Must have cost a bomb to produce. Its called the 'End of the Party'. It opens with a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan.
'Now jurymen, hear my advice.
All kinds of vulgar prejudice
I pray you set aside:
With stern, judicial frame of mind
From bias free of every kind,
This trial must be tried.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
But there's a context to this story which makes it noteworthy - the differing business support structures in Wales and England. This was recently raised by the MP for Shrewsbury who felt that businesses were being attracted over the border into Wales by a more generous grant structure. Personally, I did not consider this to be a significant problem, mainly because the only recent example of a cross border jobs move that I know of was the decision by Stadco Powys to move work from its plant in Llanfyllin to its plant in Shrewsbury, putting 106 Montgomeryshire employees out of work.
Because there seems to be some uncertainty about what is actually happening at Shimuzi, its not possible to comment specifically about this business tonight. But there must be lots of questions being asked in boardrooms across the country. We have so much hyperbole pouring out of Government, both at Westminster and Cardiff about taxpayer's money being ploughed into job retention and creation, that there must be temptation to test the water, and find out whats available. For five years in the early 90s I was Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales, and it was our job to promote economic development in Mid Wales. But it was never my aim to persuade businesses to move from another part of the UK, leaving redundancies in their wake - unless there was some specific reason why they needed to move. Bearing in mind what has happened to the economy of Welshpool over recent months, extra jobs in the town would be great news - but I would not feel it a cause for celebration, if it resulted in redundancies in Telford.
Monday, March 16, 2009
So we now have a full scale constitutional shambles - which was entirely predictable (and was predicted by this blog) as soon as the Assembly's Deputy Housing Minister decided to include the power to abolish the right-to-buy in her proposals. It mattered not that she reassured us that the Coalition Government had no intention of including this power in a new law (Assembly Measure). Fools I said at the time, and fools I meant. But what is done is done, and we are where we are. We need to move - forwards (or perhaps backwards!) To date I've taken the same view as the two Governments, in Westminster and Cardiff. I always thought that the 'veto' is unwise (and that it would have been better to redraft the LCO). I do not want to see the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales 'going to law' to settle a dispute. This is potentially disastrous. I preferred to 'brush this issue under the carpet' as a previous commenter so dismissively described my approach - and hope that the 'veto' was not seen as a precedent. And that's what was happening - until Lord Livesey (with or without the knowledge of Lord Elis Thomas?) tabled a motion that the House of Lords refuse to approve the transfer of law making powers over housing to the Assembly because of it. The blue paper was lit.
What happens now I do not know. Both the Governments at Westminster and Cardiff Bay are likely to push on with their plans to transfer the housing powers. But what on earth will their Lordships do if the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, a former leader and President of one of the Coalition partners no less, leaves his post for the expressed purpose of encouraging them to vote down the legislation. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when politicians start playing games with the constitution. For what its worth, if I had been adorned with ermine myself, I would spend the next few days in discussion with constitutional lawyers deciding whether I should support Lord Livesey's motion. But sometimes I do think, some things are best left under the carpet.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Italy deserved to beat Wales yesterday - and for two reasons. Firstly they were the better team on the day. And secondly it would have served Warren Gatland right for making so many changes, giving an impression of dismissiveness and arrogance. And this attitude infected the players, right up to the final whistle. I could not believe it when Stephen Jones went for the posts from an unlikely position with just seconds on the clock. The only play was a kick into the corner, followed by a safe line-out, and laying siege to the Italian line. I was screaming at the TV. Those seven points could cost Wales the championship, and why on earth give the Italians one last chance of victory. Against any other team at that stage, the kick would have been into the corner. Every impartial viewer would like to have seen Sergio Parissi catch the ball and run the length of the field to score under the posts. In fact, he's such a fabulous player that I wouldn't have minded too much myself.
And so to next week. We have tickets. I want Wales to win by 14 points, but I would not be too upset if O'Driscoll's men do it. We have some Irish family links now and anyway, its been over 60 years since Ireland took a Grand Slam. Its too tough to call with any confidence. But I do think Wales will have the Ferrari out for this one. If I have to call, its the men in red.
This is Doody. She and her brother Andy have recently moved in with us at Cil Farm, because their boss is not well. That's why we are visiting the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital so much at the moment. The reason Doody is showing a bit of bare leg is that she's recently undergone an operation.
The vet's bill came as a huge shock to me. As a farmer, I'm used to taking the value of an animal into account before sanctioning treatment by a vet. If the estimate is over 75% of the animal's worth, better to put it down. I know its seems callous, but that's how I was brought up to think. But how do you put a value on a cat. Anyway, at least one veterinary surgery has just received the sort of fiscal stimulus that Gordon Brown keeps banging on about..
I was bemoaning the fearsomeness of this financial blow to a friend of mine this week, who happens to be a retired vet. He recalled once treating a cat for a local farmer with a substantial acreage (which had been sneaked into the surgery by his wife) and being ferociously abused about the size of the bill. The conversation went something like this;
Farmer - How the b***** h*** do you expect me to pay bills like this, and its only for a b***** cat which provides no income at all.
Vet - The operation was complicated and time-consuming, and that is our standard charge for it. No-one else has complained, and there are people living in Council houses whose cats have been treated at the same price. And they don't object.
Farmer - With bills like this, I'll be living in a b***** Council house.
I promised not to disclose the name of the farmer concerned. And I'm pleased to report that Doody is making a good recovery from her operation - and I'm making a more gradual recovery from the shock caused by the size of the bill.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
When the 2006 Government of Wales Act came into effect in May '07, a process of transferring power from Westminster to Cardiff also came into being. It was horribly complex, and I've always considered it to be a recipe for constitutional conflict between the UK and Welsh Parliaments. I lost my position as an Assembly Member at the same time the new Act became effective. From my new position as an interested observer, I advocated that the first 15/20 proposals for power transfer should be about relatively uncontentious matters - enabling the new system to 'bed in', and trust to be developed between politicians at both ends of the M4. And then Plaid Cymru, with monumental stupidity (in my view) proposed that the power to abolish the right-to-buy be transferred (even though there was no intention whatsoever to introduce such a measure. This blog immediately condemned the proposal as crass and destined to create trouble, and suggested that the creation of dispute might have been the intention. Totally nuts.
What happened was that the Secretary of Wales decided to support the transfer of powers over housing from Westminster to the Assembly - except that his office would retain a 'veto' over any proposal to abolish the right-to-buy. This 'veto' was an added complexity to an already complex process which only political anoraks have the slightest interest in. The reality was that this 'veto' made very little practical difference, because there's no desire by anyone to use the power. The problem arises from it being a significant precedent. My hope was that Assembly politicians would have learned their lesson, and that this precedent would slink quietly into a corner and wither away. But no. The Liberal Democrats have decided that in the midst of the financial maelstrom that has engulfed our world, we need to indulge in a constitutional row over a devolution principle. I've no idea what path this dispute is going to take, except that it's likely to be circular.
Mr anonymous is very wrong. I am informed that Pawb a'i Farn regularly attracts more viewers than Question Time (in Wales that is), and sometimes attracts more viewers than Newsnight (again in Wales). Along with the two iconic programmes, Pobl y Cwm and Cefngwlad, Pawb a'i Farn attracts the highest S4/C audiences. It's a top programme. It seems that I was right to be pleased to receive an invitation to appear as a guest panellist. And I'm not just saying it to wangle myself another invite either!
Friday, March 13, 2009
Now Adam Price is no mean performer, and I was expecting him to deploy his wonderful (if sometimes stuttering) voice to put Ms Morgan in her place. But she was on fire. How anyone watching who still believes in the Labour movement must be wondering how they can Eluned into the race to be successor to Rhodri Morgan. She'd put a bit of spark into what is probably the most moribund leadership contest in Welsh history.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Today is World Kidney Day, and the campaign is being driven by Kidney Wales Foundation and the Assembly Government. Tomorrow, a local campaigning group I'm involved in is holding a coffee morning in Welshpool, Montgomeryshire to support the development of a renal dialysis unit at the local Hospital. I will be there, trying to persuade all the coffee drinkers to telephone 0845 60 60 200 or text 64118 or visit donatewales.org For some reason 5% more people in Scotland have joined the organ donation register than have joined in Wales. That translates into a lot of otherwise healthy people dying while languishing on a waiting list. While I'm not in favour of 'presumed consent', I am all in favour of persuading people to become donors when ever possible.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Here follows my preferred quotes; "We believe that the best way we can respond to the world's challenges, and also achieve our potential as a nation is to be a Conservative country"...."The truth is that people's heads say yes, but their hearts have doubts. They have some serious questions we have to address, and we need to address as a country and as a nation."....."Over the next decade, our aim is to increase the level of support for Welsh Conservatism to over 40%, and within 20 years to get a majority to support Welsh Conservatism as a policy."...."We have a long term goal as a party, and what we are going to be doing is creating a route map for the nation, and also create a space for the nation to have that necessary debate about where we see Wales as a nation in the world in the 21st century."....."We have always believed that Welsh Conservatism is the answer - its the only way we can ensure for Wales what we've always wanted, which is a future better than the past."Although it is vital that we concentrate on the problems facing Wales at the moment, it is also our responsibility to discuss our longer term vision for Wales".
Seems to me that there is absolutiely no reason why other political parties shouldn't join me in this sort of speculation, especially if they are facing serious splits about policy, and want to divert attention away from their internal difficulties.
Cherry is the last remaining Blue Duck in Britain. She lives at the Arundel Wetlands Centre in West Sussex. In an attempt to avoid extinction of the Blue Duck, the last two male Blue Duck in the country were evacuated from their homes and put in the same duck pen as Cherry at Arundel. The two boys are said to 'big personalities', and Centre warden, Paul Stephens stood back and waited for love action, and the eventual arrival of a clutch of little Blue Ducklings. And then, so the Telegraph informs us, the two boys elected to fall in love with each other rather than fight over Cherry, who remains untaken. Paul told the Telegraph that "They stay together all the time, parading up and down, whistling to each other". (Whatever turns you on I suppose). "People who visit the Centre think they're a fantastic couple, and come from from all over the country to see them" Cherry has taken the whole thing in her stride, and doesn't seem bothered. Strikes me that she has been struck down by the most appallingly bad luck.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Simon wrote "Foxes of course should be hunted, and those in areas where hunting is impractical, should be shot, poisoned and gassed to the point of extinction". His article refers to foxes as "vermin" and "filthy, disease-ridden, destructive scavengers which are no better than outsize rats". Rarely have I read anything with which I disagree more.
The Red Fox is a vicious, cunning and very beautiful predator, which kills for both food and fun - nature at its most brutal. Most of us only see the fox as it flashes across the road in front of the car. (I don't count the mangy scraggy creatures that live on scraps in our towns). I'm lucky enough to occasionally see a fox sneaking around our garden in the early morning looking for an opportunity to kill one of our Canadas - instigating panic amongst the Geese, and a sense of excitement and wonder in me. I recall speaking emotionally in a National Assembly debate about there being "nothing as evocative as the scream of an aroused vixen on a still winter's night.....". Some of the lady members started to look quite flushed. Almost no supporter of country sports thinks along Simon Heffer lines on this issue. Packs on horseback enjoy the chase, and catch the odd fox, but aren't fussed if they all escape. No foxes equals no fun. The gun packs are more into controlling numbers - to protect livestock. But there's an element of 'sport' in this as well - and they would always want a healthy fox population. I've never hunted with dogs in my life, never will, and I love the Red Fox. Hunting with dogs is the best way to ensure that future generations will be able to write in similar fashion on their blogs.
Essentially, I expect the meeting to be limited to 'information' - and even that could be a bit vague. Until planning applications are actually submitted, developers can change their plans. At present, the suggestion seems to be that approaching 600 lorry loads will be involved in transporting the 65 turbines planned for just one site near Llanbrynmair. Each load is likely to be 5 metres wide, almost 50 metres long and 6 metres high. There would have to be major realignment at the roundabouts each end of town, and some demolition of the pedestrian access bridge over the by-pass to the railway station. This would all be very disruptive. There is also the issue of weight, with loads possibly being in excess of 100 tonnes - but I suppose the threat of damage to property does depend on how many wheels are under them.
Although I come from a sceptical standpoint, I want to try to minimise impact and maximise compensation. So I've been following up the idea of helicoptering the turbines in. This is not yet realistic. There is research being carried out (in Canada) into developing helicopters which will transport the sort of weights involved, but I'm told that its 5 years away from a prototype, and probably 20 years from commercial availability. So that's out.
Another issue is compensation. At present, 'community benefit' is paid to the area where the wind farm is located, but not to towns which suffer disruption during construction. I suspect that this could be an issue for tomorrow night's meeting. I don't know how narrowly the discussion will be contained, but it may spill over into the timetable for construction of the essential 400 kv cable needed to carry the power to the Grid. We shall see. Anyway, I'll report back after the meeting.
UPDATE. Well over 200 people turned up at the meeting. At last it could be that the debate is moving on to include the impact of cables, pylons, and constuction traffic. The meeting voted about 195 - 22 to oppose what many of the assembled decribed as the destrucy=tion of their town.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
This was a first for me. I've not encountered the BNP out on the stump in Montgomeryshire before, despite it being the home of party leader, Nick Griffin. Could it be that the party is going to target the constituency at the next General Election. Not sure what impact the BNP would have. The target yesterday was very much the anti EU vote - so it could be bad news for my good friend, Ukip's Bruce Lawson. I locked myself in the bathroom to flick through 'Identity. (Not really - but I made sure that I did not read it in public). The main photographs were of Daniel Craig (Wonder if he knows), a rotten apple, three chimpanzees (representing Lib Lab Con), JFK, a gold prospector, and some sepia action shots from the trenches of the First World War. Connections to the articles were tenuous. And on page one, there was a bizarre article about black men being three times more likely to get prostate cancer than white men. Decided that I'd read enough. But yesterday was also enough for me to realise that the BNP is not a force to be underrated.
And then today's TV main politics programmes gave terrific advertising space to more emerging parties who may be putting candidates before the good people of Montgomeryshire. Firstly there was former Conservative, Sir Paul Judge on Andrew Marr, telling us about his Jury Team, which may well be fielding a candidate. I certainly do not dismiss the impact that this could have on an election in Montgomeryshire, which I'm told the media are likely to focus some attention on. And then we has Declan Ganley on the Politics Show, informing us that he wants his Libertas Party to put up candidates all over Europe. We should hear more about this next Tuesday. At present, its the EU election that's his target, but who knows what happens after that. For sure, the Eurosceptics are going to be spoilt for choice.
when I came upon
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Firstly, its not logical to even consider whether wind farms are ugly or not, without including connections to the National Grid in the consideration. When I tried to broaden the discussion to include cables and pylons, I could sense immediately that Dewi thought this was drifting off topic. Well its not. Its central to it. Many of the wind farms that are being considered on the uplands of West Montgomeryshire cannot go ahead without the construction of a 400 kv cable hanging on massive metal pylons stretching from somewhere in Shropshire, all the way up either the Severn or Vyrnwy valleys to somewhere in the Carno area - a truly hideous prospect. Many people are under the impression that this cable could be buried. In my opinion, there is an inherent dishonesty in this suggestion, because it is just not going to happen - because of cost. I'll argue for underground cabling wherever its possible, but its going to be limited to short stretches - at best.
And secondly, some people seem to think its 'better wind turbines than nuclear power', as if they are alternatives. I've even heard of unscrupulous politicians seeking to engender support for wind turbines by raising this 'option' as a serious consideration. If it was, I might consider supporting wind turbines myself. Reality is its not. All debate about new nuclear power generation is over. The Government is so committed to nuclear that its fixing the planning system to facilitate the easiest possible passage for planning applications, and bulldozing through public objection.
Anyway, we had a debate about the issue, and I was on the losing side - again. When Dewi asked the audience whether they thought wind farms 'uglified' the Montgomeryshire Uplands, the Ayes lost by at least 3-1.
First question up concerned the Assembly Government's intention to spend £42 million on refurbishing the Assembly Government offices at Cathays Park. I said that my advice to the Assembly Government is postponement. Fully accept that money needs to be spent on the buildings, and accept that where safety and maintenance of the fabric is concerned its sensible to get on with it. But a decision to go ahead with a major refurbishment costing £42 million at present would be received by the people of Wales with both astonishment and outrage.
Thousands of jobs are being lost. Real wage levels are falling. Incomes from savings are falling. Incomes from pensions are falling. Local Councils are adjusting to a very low Revenue Support Grant, and reduced capacity of Council Taxpayers to fill the gap. Teachers jobs are under threat. There is a desperate demand for social housing as supply of new private sector housing dries up. And the Assembly Government is contemplating spending £42 million on Cathay's Park.
It was a surprise to me that anyone in the audience should speak in support of this spending - but there were at least two that I can recall. I didn't go too strong on this, preferring to advise 'postponement' rather than cancellation of the proposal. Civic buildings do need refurbishment from time to time, and there has been no opportunity to consider the background to this.
First ten minutes she tore around the house, Heiniken style, reaching parts that I thought could not be reached. She stands on chairs now. I just trailed along behind, picking things up. Then off we went up for her bath. I often do this, but tonight there was no Mrs D to come up to do the drying, talcing and dressing. Ffion must have sensed the burden of responsibility weighing down on me, because she was as good as gold. I quite often do things that others think carries responsibility, but there is nothing in this world that matches that which comes with being in charge of a seventeen month old little girl that everyone in the family is besotted with.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Thursday, March 05, 2009
In the first few years after the National Assembly for Wales was established, there developed a poisonous atmosphere between the Powys Local Health Board, which commissioned treatment, and the NHS Hospital Trusts in England which delivered it - in particular at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital at Gobowen. The root of the problems were the inability of the LHB to pay the same rates for treatment as was being paid in England. This led to serious differences in waiting times, and much resentment in Powys, as patients waited longer for treatment. Relationships were bitter, and cross border funding issues were being taken to arbitration to sort out. It sometimes seemed that the patient was a secondary consideration. At Shrewsbury, the position was worsened by the build up of huge debts, and serious problems amongst the senior management, all of which threatened major parts of the services offered.
Then along came a new Chair, Margaret Bamford, and a new Chief Executive, Tom Taylor, who took a different approach. There was a public acceptance that Mid Wales 'business' was vital to the future success of the Hospital, and an acceptance that the solution to the long-standing, cross-border funding problems would only be resolved by an agreement between the UK Government and the Assembly Government. Nothing whatsoever would be gained by sniping in the media. And generally speaking it has stopped - and there has been no need for politicians to make a song and dance to get something done.
Sometime last year, the Welsh Affairs Committee, took evidence and reported on this issue. In January the UK Government responded to that report. Here are a few extracts from the response.
"We have carefully considered the Welsh Affairs Committee's interim report on cross border health services. As a result of devolution, there are understandably some differences of emphasis between Governments in England and Wales. But we agree with the Committee that the border between England and Wales does not represent a barrier to providing health care, and believe that the core principles of the NHS apply across the UK"
"...to achieve clinical safety as close to home as possible, Welsh and English patients will receive treatment on the other side of the Wales-England border. This should be accepted by policy makers in England and Wales.
"We are working with the Welsh Assembly Government to secure a fair and long term solution. These negotiations are almost complete."
"Consideration is being given specifically to issues around funding arrangements for Welsh patients who use English hospitals and formal agreement is expected shortly."
I'm told that agreement could come as early as next month. It seems to me unwise in the extreme to try to return to megaphone diplomacy of old, when on the cusp of agreement.
Peter points out that the power transfer which would be proposed in a referendum is not as significant as many people assume. The new position could not remotely be compared with the powers of the Scottish Parliament, where two thirds of the work concerns criminal justice, a policy area not devolved to Wales. In fact, its quite misleading to refer to 'more powers' at all. What the referendum would be about is making some sense of the 2006 Government of Wales Act, which was significant, and did transfer law making powers to the Assembly - but by just about the most complex bureaucratic process imaginable. Its a process that few people understand, and could not be better designed to create conflict between the UK Government and the National Assembly. And it becoming gradually more complex as the Secretary of Wales introduces new innovations as the orders transferring law making capacity go through..
Anyway, I won't repeat all of Peter's post. But I do recommend reading it. I agree with a lot of it - though I would not become part of any official 'Yes' campaign myself. I would probably support a 'Yes' campaign, but I don't want to be sharing platforms with others who have an ideological commitment to what can loosely be described as 'the slippery slope' philosophy. What I want is a stable and balanced UK constitution, based on clear accountability of politicians for the decisions that they take. Where a policy area is devolved, it should be fully devolved. We need to know who to blame.
I've been really surprised by some of the reaction to my posts. It seems that I should not have posted on the resignation of the Chief Executive - before the Council had itself announced it. This despite someone from County Hall surreptitiously communicating the information to the media before I posted on it. That was OK, I suppose. It seems that I should not have reported on the discussions that have been taking place about replacing the Chair of the Executive Board - despite my knowing it to be a fact. I thought it in the public interest to know that the Chair (Leader) can, in theory be 'elected' by no more than 20% of the Councillors (at present its around 40%). Electors don't know these things. So what's wrong with telling them. Its good for democracy.
I'm not at all sure that all councillors in Powys have grasped the new world where control of information has passed from the grasp of the Council's establishment. It started a few years back when someone leaked that several peripatetic teachers had not been CRB checked. Hell of a scandal. The Council had tried to keep the information secret. Thousands of pounds were spent on a outside consultant trying to find the 'whistle blower'. Because there was a suspicion that I might have been involved, I suddenly found Council staff telephoning me with inside stories. Since the fuss about my posts earlier this week, I have already received two calls asking me to 'leak' stories on this blog - which brings with it responsibility about I should publish.
One issue that I decided not to blog on was a call from Edna Mopbucket that she'd found evidence that approval of the Council's small business grants were to be moved from the 'shire' committees to the responsible Board Member. This would be seen as a 'centralising' move and would cause an unholy row if it were true. But I cannot make this story stand up, so I decided not to run with it. The other issue that has been leaked to me is a very important story concerning Council investments, which will eventually be very much in the public interest. But I do not believe that final decisions have yet been taken. So I have decided to keep it to myself - for now..
Final point I'll make is that there would be no leaks at all if there is an entirely open and transparent approach by the Council to all of its work. Information that becomes public via leaks always seems more significant and interesting than if it is volunteered. Anyway, my snout Edna Mopbucket has decided to spend a lot more time in Powys County Hall over the next few weeks. So keep the leaks coming is my message.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
There is some history here. A few years ago, the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust was in deep financial trouble. Debts were in the region of £38 million. A new management team was installed, which has turned things around - using radical and effective surgery. Throughout this period of treatment, I kept in close touch with new Chief Executive, Mr Tom Taylor, a plain speaking man of financial background - because the RHS is so important to us in Montgomeryshire. Now, sometime in 2007/8 Mr Taylor gave evidence to a Committee of the House of Commons and informed MPs that if payment for the treatment of Welsh Patients had been at the same level as the treatment of English patients, his Trust would have been £2 million to the good. This is absolutely not the same thing as the RHS losing £2 million pounds as a result of treating Powys patients. In fact, during all discussions that I have had with the Chief Executive, he has been very keen to emphasise just how important the flow of patients from Powys is to the Hospital. I would be very interested in knowing what Mr Taylor thinks of what was said in the House of Commons last Thursday - so interested that I will try to arrange an appointment to see him as soon as possible. The relationship between Montgomeryshire and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital is a very special one, and over recent years I have done all I can to ensure it continues to be special. I'm not prepared to seeit trampled on. After I meet Mr Taylor, I will post a blog, outlining the real contribution that the two sides of this partnership bring to each other.
In 2006, the UK Parliament passed a new act by which power is transferred by means of Legislative Competence Orders. All these LCOs do not create any new legislation. They simply transfer the power to make legislation. Proposals for an LCO emanate from the National Assembly, are considered by a specially convened committee in Cardiff Bay, and the Welsh Affairs Committee at Westminster. Things were progressing much as expected, even if rather more slowly than some hoped for. And then last autumn, we had the 'Housing LCO'.
Prior to the 'Housing LCO', what happened was that after proper discussion, they were eventually approved. But on this one, the UK Government (in the person of the Secretary of State) retained a veto over one aspect of the content of the LCO - an entirely new concept. It could not be implemented without his permission. And now the UK Government has introduced another new concept. Read on.
The National Assembly recently proposed that power over the Welsh Language be transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. Committees both ends of the M4 are inviting comments from interested parties to assist with their consideration of it. That's, in effect, two consultation exercises. And then last Thursday, the UK Government (in the person of the Secretary of State) launched its own consultation. That's three consultations going on - all at the same time. Blimey. The Welsh Language LCO will require a forest of trees to produce all the paper needed to facilitate consultation responses.
I'm not going to comment about the wisdom of all this, but I am concerned to promote understanding about how we are governed in Wales. I hope that all those who respond realise that they are not responding to a proposed new law, other than the transfer of the rights to make a new law. The issue is whether new laws concerning the Welsh Language should be made in the National Assembly for Wales, or in the UK Parliament. I hope that clarifies things!!