Monday, February 21, 2011

National Grid Underground Cable Consultation

National Grid are currently running a consultation on their policies relative to running cables underground.  I hope that you will take the time to look at the consultation paper and respond.  The link to the consultation can be found here

Given that North Wales has been selected as a site for a new Nuclear Power Station on Anglesey it is vital that North Wales residents write and give their views on underground cables, particularly given the importance of the tourism and agricultural sector here in North Wales.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strengthening families, the future of child maintenance

Any MP will know that a large part of their constituency mailbox will be problems associated with the CSA.  This organisation has been failing children and families for a long time.  Currently there are extensive problems with the IT system which upgrades have not solved.  The current consultation by the DWP provides an opportunity for single parents to have a say in shaping the future of the CSA.  The consultation paper can be found here

Whilst I am broadly in agreement with the aims of the Green Paper which wishes to strengthen the ability of families to make their own arrangements.  I am concerned that there appears to be little legal redress proposed to "back up" the arrangements made between parents.  One of the many failures of the last Labour Government was its failure to act upon the Law Commission report number 307 which outlined the problems caused by failing to give legal protection to those who are cohabiting.  For the full report see

If real meaningful action is to be taken, then it is vital that the gaps identified by the Law Commission are acted upon.  To fail to do so will have the consequence that many families and children will continue to suffer from inequality causing a rise in dependence on the state.

At present Gingerbread the lone parent charity are looking for the views of single parents who are dealing with the CSA to join their campaign and have your say click here  In particular there is a proposal to charge for collecting child maintenance.  This has the capacity to hit those who can least afford it the hardest, and I shall be working together with Gingerbread and other lone parent organisations to oppose charges for parents with care of their children.

My own experience of the CSA can be described as a "nightmare".  Slow and unaccountable, lengthy failures to take enforcement, rewards those who lie, lacking the appropriate powers for the self employed and those owning their own businesses, with gaping holes in its remit.  I shall be responding to the consultation personally and I would encourage others to do so by the 7th April. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sex Offenders Register

Today Theresa May the Home Secretary gave a statement to Parliament on a Supreme Court ruling that those sentenced to 30 months or more, and who are listed on the Sex Offenders Register for life should be allowed to appeal that decision.  May said that "Public Protection must come first" and that the Government were "appalled" at the decision of the Supreme Court and the Government would do the absolute minimum to comply.

On Monday I was at a meeting with Police officers, Forensic Medical Examiners, Paediatricians, Counsellors, Crown Prosecution Service, and Judge Michael Farmer QC to discuss serious sexual offending in North Wales and the impact the SARC Amethyst Centre has made for victims in North Wales.  Once of the concerns expressed by HHJ Farmer QC was the ridiculously low sentences given to sex offenders and in particular those in possession of pornographic images of children.  Many victims of sex offenders are affected for the rest of their lives by the actions of their abusers.  This is a life sentence imposed by an abuser without any appeal for the victim of abuse.

As the SARC conference made clear, although there is an arrest rate of approx 96% by North Wales police, the conviction rate is 46%.  Also highlighted was the fact that only 11% of sexual assaults are actually reported according to information from the British Crime Survey.  I am delighted that the Government is going to tighten 4 loopholes in the Sex Offenders Register to ensure that public protection is a key priority.  The impact in the Court system is likely to be that offenders at risk of a sentence of 30 months or more, are likely to  fight their cases.  The CPS has come a long way in ensuring that victims do not have to go into Court and face their abusers with video link and screens available to victims, and changes in evidence rules which permit previous allegations to rebut defences of "consent" have gone a long way to improve the conviction rate......but there is alot further to go and the steps announced by the Home Secretary today in closing the current loopholes will help protect the public from predatory sex offenders.

Friday, February 11, 2011

High Voltage Power lines.

It would appear that finally Albert Owen MP has raised the question of submarine cables to be considered an option for Wylfa B and the new offshore windfarms that will form part of the Irish Sea development.  This issue has been raised on Anglesey with both me and Paul Williams since November last year.  I contacted National Grid on that point in November.  Where has Albert Owen MP been over the last few months?  Interestingly he has not picked up on the failure of Grid to consider that the Environmental Information Regulations apply to their projects.

The Electricity Networks Strategy Group (which includes National Grid) published a document in 2009 which shows that they are seeking to upgrade the Pentir 275kw line to a 400kw line apparently without any consultation with the local people that it will affect. (see pages 72-80 of the ENSG report.  For a more detailed discussion of Grid issues in Wales see the blogpost from Syniadau.

Syniadau also highlights Welsh residents pay between 4 to 10 % HIGHER electricity costs as Wales is considered a net importer of electricity, despite the opposite being true.  How Labour's Welsh Assembly Government has allowed this to happen at a time of spiralling energy costs is beyond me.  Political pressure to force Grid and the Electricity Companies to accept that Wales is a net exporter of electricity could have meant money in the pockets of pensioners, families and businesses accross Wales. 

I find it surprising that Grid are now positioning themselves on the basis of  cost. bearing in mind the paragraph above.  They are running undersea cable from Scotland to Deeside at a cost of £780 million as the post from Syniadau shows.  It is vitally important that North Wales does not accept a second best option.    Why then are Grid not also considering running cable the 64 or so miles from Anglesey to Deeside.  Surely this would be a cheaper option than running cables down to Pembrokshire.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Avoiding disclosure? National Grid and Wylfa B

Recently the Government has indicated that they are reviewing a decision made by the Information Commissioner and the Tribunal about whether or not water companies need to disclose pollution information to members of the public under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.  These regulations allow the public to access vital environmental information on projects which are likely to affect local people, and which may cause environmental damage in a particular area.  This is of particular interest to North Wales which is going to host the new Wylfa B Nuclear Power station.

National Grid are relying upon the recent Tribunal decision, saying that they have no requirement to provide information under the EIR.  This is rather a surprising decision by them, particularly as they exercise powers of compulsory purchase, and are responsible for providing  electricity grid infrastructure.  National Grid are going to have to provide new grid connections to Anglesey which will either mean submarine cables, or huge electricity pylons marching across swathes of North Wales.  There is supposed to be a "public consultation" on the grid connections required for Wylfa B and the proposed Irish Sea windpower developments.  This was due to happen in Spring of 2011, yet trying to get information about the proposed routes, is proving difficult.  What are National Grid trying to hide, and why are they refusing to comply with the EIR?  Time I think for the Government in its review of the EIR and the Water Companies, to extend their review to National Grid.  If the protections the EU wanted to give EU citizens are to have any meaning then private companies exercising powers which come from the state of "compulsory purchase" and indeed nuclear electricity transmission  need to comply with the EIR. I can not see why citizens of France would be able to access the information - and those in Wales can't.  Tourism is one of the biggest industry sectors in North Wales and it is vital that the public in North Wales have access to proper information prior to and about the environmental impact of decisions by companies such as National Grid who should not seek to avoid their duty to disclose information to any members of the public who request it.  This is particularly important where possible routes include routes through a number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and indeed Snowdonia National Park.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Lack of Scrutiny in NHS,

It would appear that the Welsh Assembly Government has stopped collecting NHS data in order to avoid answering difficult questions on the NHS in Wales.  This prevents members of the public asking questions under the Freedom of Information Act of those responsible for Health in Wales.  The Labour/Plaid Government would appear to want to limit the ability of the public in Wales to access key information on performance and delivery of services.  This begs the question if Labour/Plaid's Government does not have access to the data, how are they able to make sure that services are being delivered properly to people in Wales? Are they able to see if services are being delivered in a way that provides good patient care?  It also shows that they are not prepared to look at the clinical impact of their political decisions.

Nick Bourne AM has tabled a number of questions, over 50, which have gone unanswered.  Some of these questions have remained unanswered for over 6 months.  More seriously data  has shown massive increases in waiting times is now not being collected.  Waiting times for outpatient treatment has increased by 24,758%, yes that is over twenty four thousand percent, and inpatient treatment waiting times have increased by 4958%.  Now the data is "not available" as it is not being collected centrally.  This needs explanation, not an attempt to brush it under the carpet and hope that noone notices......

This lack of scrutiny is particularly worrying for the public, who should have the ability to know what the actual position is, rather than the Spin that Labour and Plaid would like to put on their health reforms in Wales.