Sunday, November 16, 2014

Call on "devolved nations" to have a say

I read with interest Leanne Wood's speech to the SNP conference, stating that devolved nations should have a say - on matters such as welfare.  The fact is that we do.  The "people power" that she referred to is the vote that each an every one of us has in Westminster elections.  The speech of the Plaid leader is in effect a call for independence by another name.

The fact that Plaid does not get the representation at a UK level that it gets for the Assembly is a democratic choice by the electors here in Wales.  What is being suggested by Plaid is to go behind the  verdict of voters at the ballot box.  Plaid want the position where Wales is subsidised, by a UK Government Treasury and tax take, but doesn't want to accept that a UK Government, when taking into account all the constituent parts of the UK, may have a different political guise to the one voted for at an Assembly level.

The same intellectual bankruptcy is shown by her demand that each constituent part of the UK should be required to vote by a majority to leave or stay in the EU.   I can not see why Plaid would suggest that the principle of one person one vote should be undermined.  The fact is that every voter in the UK should have an equal vote, to any other voter living in the UK, and that the "weight" of that vote shouldn't depend on where you live.  Plaid's position undermines democracy and takes away the power from people seeking to put it in the hands of a distrusted "political class".

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Lidl Welsh Language "Ban"

Media reports are suggesting that Lidl in Wales has imposed a Welsh Language ban on its staff.  This appears to have arisen from a case in Scotland, rather than Wales, where two polish employees were asked to speak to Lidl customers in English.

Following reports of that case the BBC Welsh Language Website appears to have done an interview with a "spokesman" from Lidl who seems to have been singularly unprepared for the interview, and know little about Wales and their stores in Wales.

I am aware of a number of Lidl stores in Wales, presumably successful, as they have expanded rapidly across North Wales.  Clearly staff there have been interacting with their customers in both English and Welsh.  Welsh Language has official status, and I am certain that Lidl will not be seeking to go behind that status.  If they do they risk being investigated by the Welsh Language Commissioner and they will rightly be censured.   Public Services in Wales have to be offered both in English and in Welsh, allowing people the choice of which language they want to speak.  The same is not true of private companies, but a measure of common sense has to be applied.  One tweet suggested that no business should operate in Wales if they did not speak or offer Welsh.

Perhaps depressingly for me is the rise of the Lidl stores in the first place.  Take Denbigh for example two really great butchers on the High Street - but recently the greengrocers and a bakery have closed for business.  I hope that those outraged by the "ban", if there is one, take the chance to really support local businesses, whose £ goes back into the economy, and choose to buy local rather than supporting a foreign company where margins are squeezed to offer customers produce as cheaply as possible.

Living as I do in an area where 50% of the population speaks Welsh, I am perhaps aware of some wider issues, including the fact in the first three Assembly terms the records of committee meetings where AMs receive evidence and scrutinise policy decisions, were not available bi-lingually, due primarily to cost and practicality.  Fortunately technology advances have changed the position but that has only happened in this Assembly, and I am delighted that they are now bi-lingual.

Many of the Community Councils here conduct their business in Welsh, that is their right and their choice the meetings are held in Welsh, the minutes are produced in Welsh all pre and post discussions are in Welsh.  At the same time, unless there is accurate translation the remaining 50% of the population are effectively disbarred from taking part in matters which are directly relevant to their community.  Whilst there is a Welsh Language Commissioner who can ensure that the democratic process is accessible for Welsh speakers, there is no corresponding recourse where the position is reversed, presumably Simon Thomas and others would equally condemn that position.   When I  receive letters, as I did last week, saying that I am "English" and  a "Tory" I should "go back over the border" I regard that as racist.  This kind of racism would be completely unacceptable if I was say Afro Carribean, or Irish, or Indian  - but apparently because I am "English" it is acceptable both to put that  in writing - and to say it publicly. Similarly for the tweet that was favorited a number of times calling for "extermination" of people like me.  I didn't see any of the outraged language tweeters condemning those sort of comments, quite the reverse.

That is why it was so sad to see Lord Elis Thomas being sacked for speaking out against Plaid  calling people "un Welsh". We lost a good committee chair, who was highly effective and passionate about all things Welsh, but who dared to be open and inclusive about the concept of "Welshness".

In the meantime I have no doubt that Lidl stores will operate as they have done over many years, speaking to their customers in both English and in Welsh.

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

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.