Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Marine Conservation Zone U-Turn

John Griffiths has been forced to put a hold on his proposals for MCZ's.  His department received 7000 responses, and reading between the lines has been totally overwhelmed by the opposition to the proposals which would have had far reaching consequences along the Welsh Coast, with huge potential impacts on the Tourism and Fishing sectors.

Particularly embarrasing for Welsh Government was the fact that in the last 5 years in Marine Protected Areas NO enforcement action has been carried out.  At least  "not to their knowledge" which is the worrying answer I got in an FOI request.

My consultation response has been uploaded to other websites, or a copy can be obtained from my constituency office as it runs to some 9 pages, but I thought you might like to know my conclusions, posted here.

"In conclusion, I would recommend the following course of action:
1. A moratorium should be placed upon the MCZ implementation process pending further research and evidence gathering on the socio-economic impact of MCZs in the areas identified;

2. An integrated environmental, fisheries and socio-economic assessment is conducted before any further action is taken by the Welsh Government. Only after the results of such an integrated and holistic assessment are analysed can the foundation upon which effective management of the MCZs be developed;

3. The Welsh Government fully takes into account the proposals contained within the WFA Striking the Balance document."

All in all it is another embarrasment for Environment Minister John Griffiths, whose department churns out consultations like confetti.  What is clear both from my response, and from the many coastal communities was that "environment" sections of Welsh Government had not been talking to Fisheries..... leading to an awful mess, and yet another "task and finish group".  Something tells me that the delay to 2013 may indicate a desire by the Minister to push the whole thing off to the new Natural Resources Wales Body, and wash his hands of the whole mess.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Healthcare reorganisation of community hospitals

Yesterday I was at two BETSI meetings held in Flint, and I was there to see the local people of Flint who had come out to support their Community Hospital.  I have also been at meetings in Colwyn Bay, Prestatyn and Rhyl.  Rhyl has already seen the closure of the Alex Hospital.  Prestatyn, Flint and Colwyn Bay are facing closure of their community hospitals, with services being concentrated at other sites accross North Wales.  The Health Board is promising what it calls "Home Enhanced Care" which will allow greater investment in care at home accross North Wales.  The figures last night were that it costs abouts £924,000 to keep Flint Community Hospital open, with the hospital having a 160 in patient addmissions over the course of the year.  The Health Board are arguing that they need to provide a greater consistency of care accross North Wales.  The problem is that 5 years ago, when there was a raft of closures of community hospitals accross North Wales improvements in care were offered, and the argument then was that better care would be offered in the home. People are just not convinced that they are going to see those improvements.  Aligned with this are proposals to move level 3 neonatal intensive care to Arrowe Park in Liverpool.  I have blogged about these proposals in earlier posts.  I have raised with the Health Board the statistics which show that infant mortality in Anglesey is 6.7 and Denbighshire is 7 when the Welsh Average is 4.3, the fact that the Health Board wishes to move neonatal intensive care should be a wake up call, as it will mean the downgrading of services at Glan Clwyd, and the loss of specialist Doctors who have experience with the smallest of babies, who can not talk and tell Doctors what is wrong with them.  This is likely to mean the loss of 5 Senior House Officer Doctors.  What can you do?  Get involved, respond to the consultation email the Health Board at jointhedebate@wales.nhs.uk  if you dont fight to retain local services, you will loose them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Betsi Consultation on Intensive Care for Babies. What they dont know

The Betsi Health Board have launched their consultation.  I sat in on two of their meetings today in Rhyl and was really concerned about their approach to Neo Natal intensive care services.  This is called a "level 3" service.  The proposal is to move the beds to Arrowe Park in Liverpool.  This will mean a massive journey for patients from the more rural parts of  North Wales and the more Western part of North Wales, with the possibility that mothers will be seperated from their babies, if they are not well enough to travel.  Not only that, but it will also mean that parents will potentially be seperated from their existing children.  What was not clear was that Arrowe Park is in fact in a position to offer better care.  It appears that Glan Clwyd has one on one nursing with special intensive care babies, Arrowe Park does not.  Arrowe Park does have more consultants, but it doesnt seem to have the 5 Senior House Officer Doctors that are present at Glan Clwyd.  Furthermore what Betsi has not told the public is that if the level three service moves, so will the ability to train the Senior House Officer Doctors.

Betsi knew that the Deanery (responsible for decisions on training) have said that this will happen.  What does it mean for the public in North Wales, it means a downgrading of the maternity services available, it means that Betsi's sums are wrong on the savings that they will make, as they will need to employ additional consultants or non SHO Doctors, and it will mean a key service being shut down in North Wales.  Get involved with the consultation.  Write to me with your objections and I will pass it on as to retain the service it will need public support.  More worryingly, the answers given in the earlier meeting were not the same as in the later meeting, I have got that on the record and will be submitting FOI's to Arrowe Park, as clearly Betsi dont know the current level of cover, or arrangements because they are having to check them after parents from the charity Cuddles challenged the Health Board's assertions.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Planning and the Environment

An article on the BBC website indicates that the Welsh Government is going to bring forward new planning rules "next month" http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-19490475 .  John Griffiths the Minister for the "Environment" has a poor record on planning.  Over the last year he has been pushed repeatedly by me and others to permit small scale renewable installations, such as solar panels, and to include them in the permitted development rules.  He has dragged his feet and delayed, which meant that many people were not able to install when the more preferential rates were available.  One development in Deeside worth millions could not go ahead.  So you would think the news might be good news that new rules are coming out.  My concern is that the new rules will be used to drive through highly controversial onshore windfarm developments.  We will wait to see what the new rules say.  Housing developers have clearly indicated why they are not building at the moment, rules on the environmental standards are the toughest in the UK and that combined with new fire sprinkler requirements are what are holding back developments in North Wales at the moment. If Griffiths wants to kick start the housing sector, then it will be interesting to see if those issues are addressed. 

Labour's economic failure

A recent lecture by Peter Watcyn Jones from Eversheds at the Eisteddfod illustrates dramatically Labour's economic failure in Wales.  Here is an extract of what he said

The report's main message is that Wales, since the mid-90's, has seen a serious economic deterioration, to such an extent that Wales is now at the bottom of the economic table in terms of prosperity and wealth. There is a gap, if not chasm, opening up between Welsh economic success and the rest of Britain. The report suggests that each individual in Wales is £1,850 poorer than their counterparts in England – referred to in the report as "Offa's Gap". It notes that the financial services sector is becoming increasingly centred on London, leaving Wales all the poorer. It suggests that Wales imports far too much, and the famous economist A P Thirwal is quoted as suggesting that long-term growth depends on exports rather than imports. Is this principle also valid when considering the export of talent as well as goods? "

He then went onto say

"When undertaking my budget review, I noted the analysis in "Offa's Gap" with regard to the dearth of large private limited companies in Wales which would be likely to use Welsh lawyers for their work. My understanding is that there are only 16 such companies with an office or base in Wales. Of those, seven are in Cardiff or Newport, two in Ewloe, one or two in Swansea, one on Anglesey, another three in North Wales and one in Chester – possibly on the other side of the Welsh border anyway! The annual reports of these PLCs suggest that only three are represented by Welsh law firms."

Both those points, dramatically and clearly illustrate Labour's economic failure in Wales.  Labour has to raise its game on the economy in Wales, we have seen a consistent jobs flight from the private sector, over the border into England.  Sadly I think this will continue for as long as Labour remains in power in Wales

Monday, August 13, 2012

AIrline Delays and Cancellations - Your Rights

Twice this year I have taken flights which have been delayed/cancelled by over 24 hours.  I therefore thought it would be worth writing about where passengers can find help in the event that they face long delays and/or cancelled flights.

EU regulation 261/2004 is the document which lays down the rights of passengers.  The regulation extends to scheduled flights AND non-scheduled flights including those part of package tours.  One of the aims of the regulation is stated in the preamble as being "to strengthen the rights of passengers" and "Passengers should be fully informed of their rights in the event of denied boarding, and of cancellation or long delay of flights, so that they can effectively exercise their rights"

Both Airlines I flew with Qatar Airways and Jet2 have industry led "awards", both have failed to comply with the law as it currently stands in Europe.  The first delay with Qatar meant that we missed the first night of our honeymoon, meaning we missed an overnight stay in Colombo and also meant that we had an 8 hour journey after we had finally arrived, they have offered compensation, but not in line with regulation 261/2004.  Jet2 are arguing that a 24 hour delay was not a cancellation and are refusing compensation.  Qatar didnt tell us that we had the right to be able to find an alternative flight to Colombo.  Jet2 delayed in telling their passengers about that right until it was virtually impossible to use it.

When is a delay to be treated as if it were a cancellation?  The Sturgeon case in the European Court held that where a flight was delayed by 3 hours or more ie if they land more than three hours after their scheduled landing time, passangers should be treated as if their flight had been cancelled and this meant that they are entitled to the compensation outlined in regulation 261/2004 ourlined in Article 7 of the regulations.  Compensation depends on the distance flown, and ranges between 250-600 euros per passenger.  Airlines are refusing to apply the Sturgeon case.  A further case to the European Court (TUI and Others v the Civil Aviation Authority) is expected to be decided in September, and I will update the result of that case on the blog.

What to do if your flight is delayed/cancelled. I would advise you to read the regulations, they are only a couple of pages long, are easy to understand, and you will then know what you are entitled to ask of the airline, and what options are available in terms of telling the airline that you will make an alternative booking if you are able to at the Airport.

If you face a delay of three hours of more, on a flight, make a written complaint to the Airline.  Persist, as the Airlines will tell you that Sturgeon doesnt apply (it does until the Court rules otherwise).   The Civil Aviation Authority enforces these regulations, and will need copies of correspondence if it gets that far.

The Civil Aviation Authority has a customer support line which can help passengers with their complaints.  For further information on how to complain go to website http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=2226&pagetype=90

The above link will tell you what your rights are, how to use them.  The important thing is to claim before the outcome of the September case is known.  The provisional decision is in passengers favour.  Lets hope the ECJ upholds it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections on a wartime identity

This week a little bit of history has been passed to me. A small bracelet that belonged to my grandmother, who I loved dearly. I have been given a little disc on a small bracelet which has on it her name, address and blood group. It is a small thing, worthless to anyone else, but hugely important to me. In that one disc is so much that is implied. My grandmother worked for years for the British Red Cross. It speaks of the reality of war, it is an identity disc. Name and address, so your kin could be notified if anything happened to you. A potentially life saving disc, as it has her blood group on it, something I have never really spent that much time thinking about, what is my blood group? I have no idea. I know that the NHS know, as I have a daughter, and they will have tested me and it will be on my records...but I have never felt the need to wear it on my wrist. It is also a small piece of history, 70 years ago the family postal town was Denbigh, now it's Abergele. It's a little thing, but something that has made me think of army tags, and the unknown which was and is the fear engendered by war. I am lucky that I don't have to wear that information, but others from Wales face that same uncertainty,not here but in Afghanistan. I am not facing the day to day reality of war. The truth is I can only look at that bracelet with the benefit of hindsight, knowing my grandmother as a very practical person, and also someone who would stand up and be counted. A small thing that speaks of so much.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Budget for Wales

Today's budget announced by the Coalition Government is a budget for growth in Wales.  North East Wales will benefit from capital allowances in the Deeside Enterprise Zone, which will provide jobs and growth accross North Wales.  It also shows that Minister Edwina Hart has been foolhardy in not engaging earlier and better with UK Ministers on behalf of Wales, as clearly the business case for other enterprise zones in North Wales has not yet been provided.

I am delighted that the personl tax allowance has been raised to £9,205 which will mean that an extra 42,000 people in Wales will now not pay tax, meaning that since the UK Government has come into power 95,000 low paid workers in Wales have more money in their pockets and don't pay tax.  Those on low pay will also see an increase in the National Minimum Wage.  Not only those changes, but the reduction in corporation tax will increase the attractiveness of Wales as a place to do business, reinforcing the commitment to jobs and employment.

Wales will also get an additional £11.7 million from the UK Government, meaning it has had an additionl £500 million since the spending review in 2010.  How this will be spent will be upto Labour's Welsh Goverrnment.  Given their capacity to waste huge amounts of money, I don't hold out hope that it will be put to good use.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Scrutiny, Energy and the National Assembly for Wales

For the last few months the Environment and Sustainability Committee has been undertaking work on an enquiry into energy in Wales, and in particular renewable energy in Wales.  I will not pre-empt the conclusions of that work.  However today we sat in private session.  That session was to discuss areas on which we may wish to ask questions of the Ministers concerned.  Next week we will have 4 Ministers in front of us. Carwyn Jones, Edwina Hart, John Griffiths and Carl Sargeant.  In total we will be given 30 minutes with each.  This undermines the democratic accountability of the Assembly.  It means that the Ministers will not have sustained and detailed questioning about current policies such as TAN 8.  For those who feel that there is a lack of accountability for Ministers decisions both to the Assembly, and outside the Assembly, I would say that you are right.  I have raised the issue of scrutiny and timetabling today....... we shall see what the result is later (if any). The public in Wales need to know that Ministers should be accountable and are being scrutinised, from my experience to date, I would say that the current new structure of Assembly Committees is not delivering that for the public in Wales.  The First Minister in the last 6 months has not made a single oral statement to the Assembly on Energy.  No one has held him to account for this.  He has not been properly questioned by Assembly Members, and when there has been a chance, there have been severe and inappropriate time constraints.    For communities accross Wales facing large windfarm and other energy developments, you should be aware that debate and scrutiny on these issues is not reflecting the concerns as expressed so publicly by you.  30 mintues for each Minister is not enough for proper democratic accountability.