Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Budget.

Never thought I would ever hear a Conservative Chancellor announce a compulsory National Living Wage. Was sitting near Ian Duncan Smith, who celebrated like he'd won the lottery. Probably because a philosophical shift in strategy to tackle poverty through work rather rather than welfare matters more to him. It's been his dream for years. Labour MPs were stunned into silence. I was sitting on the step in front of an annoyingly shouty one, who had her voice cut from beneath her feet. They were all so stunned that George Osborne repeated the paragraph. He thought they had not quite grasped the enormity of what had just happened. It was one of the great moments of my Parliamentary life.
Lots of stuff in today's budget. But this philosophical shift was the biggie. We knew that the Chancellor was going to take £12bn out of the social security budget. He told us that during the election campaign. We didn't know the precise detail, but everyone expected a cut in working tax credits which have ballooned to an eye-watering £30bn. Won't pretend I wasn't worried about this. I represent a low wage area. I had hoped for an increase in the Minimum Wage. Well, out of his top hat, the Chancellor pulled the big fat rabbit of a compulsory National Living Wage. Lots more detail to understand and looking forward to reading the analysis, but the tone of this Parliament was set in one sentence.
This is one hell of a shift in policy. I still remember the Conservative Party opposing the introduction of the Minimum Wage. Seen as a threat to jobs. And of course today's announcement is. I've already had emails from local employers concerned about competition in the export market. But we are told the number of jobs which may be lost is around 60,000 - set alongside the anticipated extra million jobs predicted to be created over the next five years. 
Lots of other big stuff as well. Totemic was the commitment to 2% of GDP to be spent on defence. That's Conservative. Corporation Tax down to 18%. That's Conservative. Freeze on fuel duty. That's welcome in rural Montgomeryshire. End of non dom status scrapped for permanent residents. That's fair. Inheritance Tax changes. That's welcome but small beer, and why on earth is it limited to the house and not to 'the estate'. Plenty more not so welcome too. That's unavoidable in the circumstances. 
There will be losers in today's budget - inevitable when reducing the annual deficit from £80bn to balance. Most people in Britain will accept that today was necessary. It was what the Conservatives promised the people before they voted on May 7th. We do not want to end up like Greece, and after today, we very definitely will not.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Battle of the Strawberry Fields

Many a great battle has been fought throughout the history of man in the gardens of the world. Great men have died to defend their crops from marauding intruders. One such great battle is being played out in our garden at Cil Farm at present. It's not possible to know who is going to prevail, but it's a fight to the death.
On the one side is our eldest son, Edward (let's call him Edward 1st, another great warrior) who decided to turn our greenhouse bench into a strawberry patch. And very successfully. Big, red and juicy they were. Ffion was really appreciating the fruits of her proud dad's labours. It was all going so well - until 'The Grey Squirrel' decided he liked them too. And devouring them before they were red and juicy. Now my advice was to shoot it, or corner it and bludgeon it to death with a club of some sort. But our son is a gentle soul, and set about replacing all the broken panes the squirrel was using for entry and exit. Job done, without hurting the squirrel.
Next day, our conquering hero was luxuriating in victory amongst his strawberries. He and the squirrel saw each other at the same time - when the vermin poked his head above the foliage. It had entered through a window slit. Battle had truly been joined. A trap was set, outside the window slits, loaded with all manner of squirrel delicacies. The idea was to catch the squirrel and take it some distance away for release. My air gun and club ideas still not consider appropriate. 
Anyway Mrs D has reported to me that she was passing by the greenhouse today, when she noticed the squirrel back and busy amongst the strawberry foliage. Seems it had got in via a roof light this time, and couldn't get out again. Not sure where this is all going to end. I'll be home on Thursday, and am wondering if there's any movement on my gun and club plans. They are very nice strawberries.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

"Told you so" - Euro always destined to fail.

Usually, it's a bad situation when we can say "Told you so". So it is with the Euro crisis following today's vote by the Greeks in a referendum. Not sure I fully grasp the precise details of what the referendum was actually about. Not sure Greek voters did either. But the message was clear. They did not want their elected Govt to be bullied and humiliated by the Euro-elite. Forget how we got here. The No vote was two fingers up to the EU establishment. I would have voted No as well. Anything else and Greece would, in effect, no longer have been an independent country. I do think the current political leadership in Greece are not on this planet, but they have been elected to lead a sovereign country.

 Now to the "Told you so" bit. Actually, mine was a little echo of William Hague, then Conservative Party Leader who campaigned with great fervour to "Keep the Pound". Lots of us wore little £ badges. I even took an egg in the Middle of my back for William at a rally in Monmouth. Spoilt a nice suit. And I still recall being on a public panel at the Tanhouse Inn before an audience of farmers, discussing merits of the UK joining the Euro. I was alone in opposing the idea. And vehemently opposed at that. Dismissed as an 'Extremist' I was. Me an 'Extremist'! But the debate was very hot.

William had the best line of all. Being in the Euro was like being stuck in a house with no doors -ok until there was a fire. It's on fire now. Anyway Gordon saved us from the furnace that Blair and so many others would have taken us into. Britain will always be grateful to Gordon for that. 

But where are we now in Greece following an overwhelming No vote. Syriza, led by Tripras will survive as the Government. Now I know the EU always pay up in the end, but I just can't see it this time. It would open the floodgates to similar uprisings in other EU states. It's a lot easier defaulting on debts than repaying them if you can get away with it. It does look that after all the 'huffing and puffing' as if it's for real. We could be headed back to the Drachma.

Whatever, it's going to a real Greek tragedy - hyperinflation, mass unemployment, people starving on the streets and sick people dying untreated. And yet some of us sense it may be for the best in the long term. I hope EU Gov't's will help Greece adjust, and everyone who can will help the Greek economy by booking this year's and next year's holidays there. And take some spending money. It's in no-ones interests to see Greece become a failed state. 

And I daresay it will look a whole different tomorrow! 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Another Mid Wales Connection Project 'Update'.

I had promised myself I would not allow the flicker of a wind turbine blade or the shadow of a pylon to intrude on this blog ever again. The whole Mid Wales Connection Project (MWCP) stuff has caused me so much angst, I want to escape it's turbulence. But I'm being pressed to update the position, as best I can. So ok. Just this once. And not offering opinion but a perspective on where we are at. And I speak only of my constituency, Montgomeryshire. There is much more to be said if taking a UK perspective.
Firstly, It seems to me that the conjoined public inquiry into 5 local wind farms, which so many people are anxious about is largely irrelevant. There is no reason to think anything other than that those which want to connect to the MWCP are dead as dodos. The Prime Minister no less has made clear that no subsidy will be available for any of them under the Gov't's new subsidy scheme, Contracts for Difference (CfD). And none of them, or any other which might want to use the MWCP can  even think about the old subsidy scheme, based on Renewable Obligation Certificates. They would have to actually be exporting power to the Grid by April next year. And at best the connection line could not be operating until 2020.
There are two wind farm proposals in Montgomeryshire which could go ahead - one I think very likely and one not likely at all (but possible). Tir Gwynt nr Carno is very likely. It meets the conditions which allow an extra year to reach production stage - April 2017. It has planning permission, a grid connection agreement and ownership of the land. Nothing to stop it. In truth I'm very surprised it has not already been built. The much less likely one is the Llandinam re-powering. Technically, it does not qualify for the 'grace period'. It does not have planning permission, but I suppose the developer could well argue there is already a permission on the site (for the current wind farm which would be removed). And it would not produce electrics by the relevant date to qualify for RO in time - but again the developer could try to argue the site is producing electricity already. Not sure these arguments will stand up though - which is why I think it very unlikely. 
Many people want to know when we can draw a line under this whole saga. Well, this I don't know. National Grid, who have I'm told largely, though not totally suspended work on the line still maintain it is contracted by developers to continue building. "Nothing to do with us mate"!  It's Scottish Power Energy Networks (representing developers) which holds the contracts with National Grid. I plan an early discussion with SPEN to try establish what the position is. Expecting obfuscation though.
There are other tangential issues which make things confusing. One issue is the decision by the UK Govt to 'devolve' decision making across England and Wales to local communities. In Wales it applies only to wind farms over 50 MW, since below that figure it's already devolved. And It seems likely that the Welsh Govt will very quickly make a power grab for everything over 25mw (up to 350mw). UK Conservative Govt is localising while Welsh Labour Govt is centralising! But none of this makes much difference in Montgomeryshire, if there is no subsidy available for the wind farms.
And then there's the public inquiry. We know the Planning Inspector gave his report to DECC on Dec 8th 2014. Since then nothing. Personally I hope it stays that was. Sorry - opinion creeping in!! Anyway, if they are approved it makes no difference because no subsidy.
Now to the main concern I continue to have. Some of these developers may decide to go to war with the Govt, and secure permissions, even with no prospect of actually building. If they do a minimal amount to establish a 'start on site' and just sit on them in the hope of a future Government restarting the subsidy train again. This would leave a long term legacy of uncertainty.
Dare say there will be lots of questions. Fire away. I still have a few myself. I'm not getting involved in opinion of what's right and wrong here. Just what I think it the actual position - and surely missed a few things.