Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Caroline Spelman is brave to speak out.

Caroline Spelman is right to point out that Parliament is going back to the 19th Centuary in the article quoted here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10967149/Strict-expenses-rules-driving-Parliament-back-to-the-19th-century-former-minister-says.html

It is an unpopular thing to say, but the problems are no less severe in the Welsh Assembly.  When elected in 2011 as a lone parent, there were, and remain no policies in place that in any way recognised the position that I was in and the difficulties this caused for me personally. 

The way that things currently work in Wales, I dont believe a lone parent from North Wales, who did not have the support given to me by my family, could actually do the job.  If a child is of school age then it is not possible to move them to Cardiff for three days a week, and back to North Wales.  It is my view that standing for election should be open to all, and not just the wealthy few, and that we need a diversity of voices in the Assembly, including those of lone parents.

The failure of the remuneration board to deal with this issue is wrong, particularly when it means that the unelected board is in effect failing to consider the barriers for lone carers both in standing for election, and also once elected, from actually being able to do the job.

Needless to say I have tried to improve it for lone parents who might follow me, so far with  spectacular failure, although I might finally have prompted the paid commissioner for Equalities Sandy Mewies AM to put in a response to the next consultation, something she has spectacularly failed to do to date.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Questions remain after Minister for Natural Resources fired.

Today Minister for Natural Resources, Alun Davies AM was fired, following a request to civil servants to disclose and find out confidential information in relation to opposition Assembly Members and their families, which sought to breach the protections of the Data Protection Act, which protects every citizen against information being shared with those not authorised to see it.

Despite firing the Minister, serious questions remain concerning the actions of First Minister Carwyn Jones. 

(1)     Carwyn Jones has repeatedly refused to disclose which breaches of the Ministerial Code he considered were breached by Alun Davies, and why it was that they were not sackable breaches. 


(2)    It is clear that the First Minister himself was misled by the Minister when Alun Davies asked his private secretary to make the FM “aware that I have sought advice on this Ministerial Code on two occasions with reference to this issue since being appointed to my current role in March” – However the Minister did not apparently tell the FM that he had ignored and directly contravened the advice that he had been given. (see para 68 of the report).  The FM must have been aware of this when he received a copy of Sir Derek Jones’ report, but concluded that he could stand by a Minister who had actively misled him.


(3)    Why have Welsh Government continued to refuse to disclose the Circuit of Wales due diligence report.?


(4)    Furthermore, why has the First Minister not disclosed the further information requested in my email of the 2nd July, which I will include below.  The ONLY inference, is that other Ministers could also be tainted by the scandal and are being sheltered by the FM whilst he makes inquiries.

below is the text of the letter sent to Carywn Jones on the 2nd July 2014 - the day Alun Davies decided to request information to smear opposition members.

Dear Carwyn


I am grateful that you placed on the record in Plenary that the correspondence requested in my email  to you dated 13th June 2014 would be disclosed to me at the same time that the report was placed in the library.  The information requested was as follows


(a)    Copies of all correspondence from Alun Davies to the Chief Executive, board members or other employees of NRW concerning the Circuit of Wales whether in his capacity as Minister or AM.  I have seen Annex 3 and don’t require disclosure of that material, which was already in the public domain.  However I would welcome confirmation that no additional correspondence exists and that full disclosure has been made of all emails, notes of meetings and contact.

(b)   All correspondence between Alun Davies and the Ministers responsible for Planning and the Economy on the circuit of Wales again whether in his capacity as Minister or local Assembly Member.  Any meetings to discuss finance to the Circuit of Wales attended by the Minister for Natural Resources. 


In addition I request disclosure of the following items referred to in the report of the Permanent Secretary under the FOI Act provisions, although I would suggest that transparency and openness require these to be disclosed prior to the debate currently tabled.


(c)    Further to the publication of the report I request disclosure of the full advice provided to the Minister by his officials refered to in Paragraph 36 of the report and a full copy of the Cabinet Division advice dated 28th March 2012.

(d)   Copies of the relevant extracts of the Ministerial Code provided to Alun Davies by his Private Secretary in March 2013.

(e)    Details as to whether the Minister had notified his ministerial staff of the meeting on the 18th June.  Confirmation as to whether his specialist advisor was present at that meeting or any member of his constituency staff.  Confirmation as to whom authorised that no minutes be made or taken both by NRW and by the Minister.  Confirmation as to whether the meeting was entered into his Ministerial diary.

(f)     A full copy of the email sent by the First Minister’s office on the 2nd August 2013.  A full copy of the response made by the Private Secretary to Alun Davies following the email of the 2nd August as detailed in Paragraph 68.

(g)   Details as to whom prepared the proposed statement by the minister on the 13th August. A copy of the proposed but unreleased statement.  Full copies of all notes or correspondence from the Minister to his officials seeking guidance as referred to in paragraph 69 of the report and a full copy of all advice from his ministerial advisors – whether in note, written or other form.


Kind regards"
The failure of the First Minister to put this information in the public domain, particularly where it seems that Alun Davies actively misled the First Minister in the item requested in paragraph (f) requested above.
The failure to disclose this infomation immediately, puts other Ministers as being at risk from this scandal, particularly those who had meetings or discussions over providing further finance to the project, and it is surprising that the FM has not sought to release the information quickly and effectively, as issues around the Circuit of Wales will not be going away. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Breaches of the Ministerial Code and Circuit of Wales

Carwyn Jones' failure to act against Minister for Natural Resources Alun Davies is shocking in the light of conclusions of his own Permanent Secretary's report.  The report outlines that the Minister had received advice on the 28th March 2013 that he "should not comment on the matter, even in his capacity as AM".  Furthermore advice was given to the Cabinet by the Cabinet Division that Ministers should not comment on the individual merits of a case.  At this stage NRW was opposed to the application. 

Roll forward to the 12th, 13th and 18th June 2013 when the Permanent Secretary's report concludes that the Minister, in arranging a meeting with NRW to "agree a way forward" could only have been acting in his capacity as Minister, as in his role as an ordinary AM he would "have had no role in agreeing a way forward in how NRW responds to its statutory planning responsibility". 

The report to the First Minister clearly outlines "As Mr Davies porfolio area had a key role in the planning process for the Circuit of Wales, including advising on whether the application should be called in by Welsh Government, and could be subject to direction on the exercise of its functions of the Circuit for Wales, it was important that Mr Davies did not by his pronouncments or actions do anything which might be regarded by NRW as conveying an expectation on what the Welsh Ministers required of NRW in respect of  the application"

In that context the email of the Minister of the 13th June is absolutely damning.  He wrote

"Thank you Graham.  This second letter does being to move us in the right direction.  I do appreciate that and I am grateful to you for taking the time to review these matters. 

However I remain very concerned with the processes at work with NRW in this matter.  In addition I do not believe that the current NRW position does reflect the totality of the statutory duties and the demands of the remit letter provided to NRW by the Welsh Government.

It would be very useful to meet.  Could I suggest 11.00am on Tuesday? I would be content to meet at Newport Road or alternatively we could meet at the Assembly in the Bay.  I will also invite a representative of the develop[ers to join us and I hope that between us we can agree a way forward."

Carwyn Jones' Office wrote to Alun Davies expressing "surprise about the remarks attributed to the Minister - in his capacity as AM" in an article in the Western Mail. 

All of this, and more detailed in the report shows a contempt for the advice of his officials not to comment even in his capacity as AM.  A threat is a threat, and as the Minister responsible for setting the budget and "remit" of NRW in his portfolio - the second paragraph is a clear reference to his own portfolio.

Low and behold in August NRW do an about face and drop their opposition to the project, less than 2 months after the Minister's meetings and emails.

I am not surprised that NRW have said that they werent "influenced" - NRW's chief executive Emyr Roberts is a former civil servant working at the heart of the education department for a number of years.  It is unlikely he would turn on his masters who have promoted him, and had NRW accepted that it had been influenced, his head would potentially have been on the block as well.  All of this leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth indeed one that the Minister for Natural Resources says "do as I say...not as I do".

Lets not forget that 750,000 cubic tonnes of peat will be excavated for the project - a clear conflict for a Minister supposedly in charge of our Natural Environment.  Hard pressed farmers who have had lecture after lecture from this Minister over their enviromental failings will quite rightly laugh in his face now, given his rank hypocracy.  It also shows a real weakness in Carwyn Jones' leadership.  The First Minister is clearly happy to cover up for a lousy Labour "Taffia"  - AWEMA, RIFW - now Circuit of Wales.  Speaks for itself really.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Give businesses in Wales the same support as in England

Businesses hit by storms and flooding should be given a three-month break from paying rates. The move is urgently needed to help companies get back on their feet. Businesses have been hit doubly hard – firstly through damage thanks to the floods and the storm, and secondly they’ve seen  a sharp drop in trading either because people very sensibly have stayed at home during the bad weather, or because they’ve had to shut their doors for safety reasons. According to retail analyst Springboard, footfall in Wales plummeted 18.6% year on year on Monday and 17.7% on Tuesday. As an example, Debenhams closed two stores early in Bangor and Llandudno because of high winds and today other stores will be shut across the region while insurance assessors check for damage.
The road network across North Wales and north west England was brought to a virtual standstill on Wednesday night because of the high winds – the area around the Britannia Bridge has become a giant lorry park. That is also affecting deliveries in and out of Wales – both of items to customers and supplies into retailers and companies.  The rail network across North Wales has also been severely affected.
In the Parliament this week, at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron vowed to waive business rates for three months and English companies can also defer VAT, PAYE and corporation tax for the same period.
We need similar action on business rates now from the Welsh Government businesses hit by storms and flooding should be given a three month break from paying rates.  The UK Government's help on VAT, PAYE and Corporation tax will help.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Statement on the reshuffle

Tonight I have travelled to North Wales because my region is being battered by storms that is where my focus is.  Many residents have suffered damage to their homes and their businesses and I have seen on my journey the emergency services working flat out, council teams out clearing roads, and I know the Red Cross are helping stranded Lorry drivers in Bangor affected by the road closures to Anglesey.  My constituents should know that I may have lost the title "Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs" but I have not lost my voice or my brain.  I intend to continue to use both to speak up for my constituents and my region, as I have done throughout my time in the Assembly.  Those living in rural communities will still benefit from the knowledge and experience that I have gained whilst shadow minister for rural affairs and I will continue to speak up for the needs of rural communities and North Wales, many of whom are without electricity at the present time or who have been cut off with transport problems across the North Wales region.

Tomorrow me and my staff will be focusing on providing support to those who need it.  Businesses and homeowners affected by the storms and floods should contact their local bank branches as many of the UK banks are offering assistance to those who have been affected, including mortgage interest holidays, and business loans for those businesses affected by floods.  My office will be open tomorrow to assist those that need it and I receive emails 24 hours a day.  I shall be remaining in the region next week to ensure that we provide all the support and help that is needed.

I call upon the Welsh Government to follow the lead of the UK Government and to extend business rate relief to businesses affected by the flooding and storms.  That is an immediate step which can be taken which would provide support and help to those businesses that have been affected.

Questions about tax are not relevant to the vast majority of my constituents at this present time, and if others wish to concentrate on the question of tax - that is a matter for them.  I took a position which I believe to be the right one, and the debate will no doubt be conducted in the future when it is more appropriate.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pontcysyllte to Cardiff

WALKING across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on Monday morning gave me a bird’s eye view across Wrexham and parts of Flintshire, and into England – it’s a good job I’ve a head for heights.

Thomas Telford’s masterpiece of engineering, 126ft high and 1007ft long, is one of the Wonders of Wales. But this Grade I listed, Unesco-protected World Heritage Site isn’t just a place of history, it’s also somewhere with a great future.

I’ve been involved in discussions about regenerating an area around Trevor, near the aqueduct. There is a huge economic opportunity here, both in continuing to bring in tourists, and in helping people find a home they can afford.

It would involve a new marina with berths for tourist boats and also residential berths for people who live on narrow-boats. It’s an affordable way for many to live in their own home, in a popular area where there are few homes to rent, or to buy.

My stroll along the Llangollen Canal bank was to accompany supporters of Enough Food For Everyone If…. This campaign wants action to end world hunger, with action to stop tax avoidance by multi-nationals. In the Third World last year $160bn was lost in tax avoidance.

Enough Food is also calling on Wales’ AMs to ensure the money we spend supports fair trade, tax transparency and environmental sustainability. I understand their concerns about ending this unfairness. It’s frustrating to know the world produces enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food.
The campaign is also pressing for the UK to use its Presidency of the G8 and the Enniskillen Summit in June, to urge other rich countries to meet their longstanding promises of spending 0.7% of GNP on aid - the UK is the only member of the G8 to spend this amount on global aid.  This shows the commitment of the UK Government to helping the poorest in our world.  This is not without controversy as many people here question why we are spending that money abroad and not at home, but some of the people being helped live on less than a £1 a day.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Airline Delays and your rights

Last summer I blogged about the problems of JET2 for passengers on flights with the company, and the fact that there were particular problems with cancelled flights being referred to as "delayed" flights.  Two recent Judgements have improved consumer rights in this area.  For delays the "Tui Travel" case established that where a flight has been delayed for more than 3 hours passengers will be entitled to compensation.  The Civil Aviation Authority have updated their advice for passengers which can be accessed here http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=2211&pageid=14023

For a Guardian article which outlines further information http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jan/31/airlines-refuse-delayed-flight-payouts

It is time now for Airlines to give their passengers the compensation they are properly entitled to.