Saturday, May 26, 2018

AVOID, DEFLECT, ATTACK, IGNORE


In most normal countries and states around the world the state of the nation's railways is understandably a matter of some economic significance, concern and civic pride. Yet the current state of our nations fragmented railways is a source of national embarrassment and collective frustration, rather than boosting our economy, they are literally dragging our economy down. 

Back in the 2016 National Assembly election's one of the Labour Party’s key flagship transport policies was that they would “deliver a new, not-for-profit, rail franchise from 2018”. The current (for how long is an open question!?) Incumbent is Cabinet Secretary for Transport, it was Ken Skates who actually authored that manifesto.

Yet, the current Welsh Labour Government has just handed over responsibility for our national railways to a French-Spanish, for-profit, consortium of transnational corporations – the former made a profit of €313 million in 2016. This means very basically that rail passengers in Wales will therefore no longer be subsidising rail passengers in Germany at least - as is the case under the current franchise with the German state-owned Arriva - we will be subsidising rail passengers in France instead.

The Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay could argue that they aren’t able to procure a publicly owned operator under the terms of the Wales Bill - they haven't. The harsh reality Labour in Wales has completely (and pretty consistently I might observe over the years) failed to ensure that the devolution settlement permitted the Welsh Government to procure a not-for-profit rail operator. 

To make matters worse, they then actually choose to vote in favour of this new devolution settlement, in the full knowledge that the settlement would stop them from being able to deliver on this important transport promise. The Welsh Government simply accepted this position, and subsequently has awarded a £5 billion rail franchise to the majority-owned French rail company, Keolis, and Spanish infrastructure corporation Amey to run the Welsh network for 15 years (2033).

As has become the sad norm for this Labour in Wales Government, when faced with awkward or difficult questions in the knowledge that they have lost the intellectual and moral argument, tend to avoid, deflect and evade challenges through personal and puerile attacks - and a blatant refusal to answer questions (as personified by Carwyn Jones's behaviour at First Ministers questions). 

The First Minister, however, as has been noted elsewhere is not alone when it comes to this behaviour. For one thing Labour cannot differentiate between itself and civic government - criticise them and they will attack you for undermining the institution be it in Cardiff Bay or Newport Civic Centre - but they will never directly answer the question or the criticism. 

In a recent debate in the National Assembly the Transport Secretary just refused to answer a crucial question that would at least have measured the sincerity of his vision for a Welsh not-for-profit rail operator. It was possible to introduce a ‘Break Clause’ to this franchise agreement which would allow the Welsh Government to end the contract before the formal contractual end date - this was not done. 

This would at least have bequeathed some future Welsh Government potential wiggle-room / freedom of movement to actually deliver a not-for-profit rail franchise if there was a change in the law made by a so minded Westminster Government. No such assurances were sought - this means the Labour in Wales Government have effectively bound the hands of not just the next administration, but the one after that, and, indeed, the one after that.

A recognisable pattern about decisions that bind the hands or limit the options of future Welsh governments may have emerged. This decision also mirrors the potential financial consequences of a commitment to the M4 Black route - which would tie up fresh acquired borrowing powers with significant loan  commitments that could effectively tie the hands of future Welsh governments (Labour in Wales or otherwise) for  years. 

The very borrowing powers themselves may have been reluctantly conceded by Westminster (by George Osbourne) with this in mind.  Now in relation to the rail franchise this could be down to a number of reasons: a lack of vision or desire from Labour in Wales, poor (if not downright questionably impartial) advice from the civil service, a lack of attention to detail, simply not being up to the business of governance with a deliberately badly designed system of devolution, or perhaps just not actually simply not being that good at what they do.

Now it can be argued that this could be down to arrogance, complacency, cynical indifference or a recognition of the realities of the current electoral system.  The partially proportional electoral system can be said to have largely been designed to deliver Labour majority government. 

It is more than possible that Labours duly elected representatives in Wales cannot envisage a non Labour dominated (minority or majority) government ever being elected. And at this moment in time who could say that they are not correct in this belief. If you were so minded, that the Labour minority government's that have been elected (periodically since 1999) have been a result of the electorate casting their votes despite the electoral system - which may say a great deal about some of the shrewd choices made by electors in our nation from time to time.

That said the Labour in Wales Cabinet Secretary questionably argued that this new for-profit franchise will deliver outcomes for passengers - something that very effectively undermines the Labour Party’s position at Westminster on nationalisation in its entirety. Plaid Cymru has long believed that Wales needs a publicly owned railway to ensure that dividends and profits are reinvested back into the Welsh rail services that have been starved of funding by successive Westminster governments. 

Recently the great leader (JC) spoke of the need for a people's railway, yet here, the only national government the Labour Party controls, are busy celebrating their achievements by brazenly and slavishly following the Conservative Party’s privatising agenda. A case of do as I say, not as I do? We have a long way to go in our country but for certain Labour in Wales is not the answer we are looking for…

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

THE COMPANY THAT YOU KEEP...


Personally I prefer my politicians to be chosen from the ranks of those who ask and answer questions (awkward and otherwise); from those who inquire, who have open minds and who tend to actually think (coherent) thoughts. Not to mention ones that tend not to come from parties that have been in receipt of donations from Russian and Serb businesspersons or are very happy in the company of filthy rich oligarchs. 

Teresa May's conduct as Home Secretary deserves scrutiny as the failure to hold an inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko - there were a number of suspicious deaths amongst the Russian emigre community (and associates) during a certain person's tenure as Home Secretary. The decision not to investigate because it may have been prejudicial to business / city interests remains questionable to say the least. 

The Brit (and City) elite are too comfortable not asking questions (let alone answering them) particularly those related to where the cash has come from. This is something that has been noted by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee has reported that London was being used to hide the "corrupt assets" of President Vladimir Putin and his allies. It's also been noted that despite the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter it remains "business as usual" for the City.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ANOTHER DIFFICULT ANNIVERSARY!


Forgetting anniversaries is a very human thing, we can all occasionally do it - its when the State has selective absences of memory that are deliberate and that it can become a problem. I wonder if the 13th April 2019 will be doubly underlined in the diary of whoever is sitting in 10 Downing Street next year - I suspect that it won't be underlined. The 13th April 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh or Amritsar massacre - which was somewhat half-heartedly referenced by then no doubt somewhat embarrassed PM David Cameron as a 'shameful event' -so much for making an attempt at a sincere if somewhat belated apology (back in 2013). Whatever you choose to call it - murder is still murder, an atrocity is still an atrocity, even if it was 99, a 100 or 101 years ago.  Perhaps in the aftermath of BREXIT (more than ever) there is a real need to temper the wave of post imperial Brit nostalgia for empire with some post colonial responsibility. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

A WELSH CIVIL SERVICE


The case for creating a full functional and devolved Welsh civil service is a strong one, the day to day consequences of a partially devolved and somewhat periodically Wales focused civil service are self evident. As long as a significant percentage of some (but certainly not all) civil service mandarins careers remain understandably focused across the border on Westminster and Whitehall, and remain largely indifferent towards our national aspirations; then to misquote Jawaharhal Nerhu - the civil service in Wales could be described at times as not particularly Welsh, nor particularly civil, nor particularly a service. 

A unified depoliticised (lets be honest de-labourisation would be no bad thing if we are serious about developing our civic society goes) Wales focused civil service is pretty much a necessity. I would broaden that definition of civil service include our local government staff, NHS and third security admin and technical staff. This would allow people to develop broader careers via secondments, promotions, sideways moves and career placements across the whole of the Welsh public sector. This would be beneficial, help to break down artificial barriers, help avert the dangers of silo thinking and boost our public sector.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A CONSERVATIVE BETRAYAL


Steffan Lewis AM: Challenge to Continuity Bill a betrayal by Conservatives

Steffan Lewis AM, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, today criticised the UK Government for choosing to challenge the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill in the Supreme Court. The Bill, which was initially proposed by Steffan Lewis in a members’ legislative proposal that passed unanimously, enshrines EU regulations on devolved matters into Welsh law, protecting the current devolution settlement.

Steffan Lewis AM, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, said:

“The National Assembly for Wales legislated to protect our democratic powers from a power-grab by the Government in Westminster. It demonstrates the contempt that the Conservatives have for the democratic wishes of the people of Wales that they are choosing to challenge the Bill in the Supreme Court, rather than continue to negotiate in good faith to come to an agreement that works for all.

“This shows that when it really matters, the Conservatives will not stand up for Wales. Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly initially voted in favour of my motion calling for a Continuity Bill, but when Wales needed them to challenge their bosses in Westminster, they were happy to capitulate rather than join the fight to save Wales’ devolution settlement.

“The broad support for the Continuity Bill in the National Assembly shows that defending Welsh democracy from a Tory power-grab is an issue that crosses party lines. Whether you voted to leave or remain, no one voted to strip the National Assembly for Wales of the powers it was granted by the people of Wales in two referenda. The Continuity Bill is Wales’ chance to resist a Westminster power-grab. The Conservatives have shown today that they cannot be trusted to stand up for Wales.”

ENDS

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SECRET TRADE TALKS EXPOSE DESPERATE WESTMINSTER GOVERNMENT


Plaid Cymru urges Westminster U-turn on Customs Union membership

Details from secret trade talks between the Westminster Government and 14 other trade groups have exposed the desperation inside Whitehall and the impact that leaving the Customs Union will have on the economy and consumers.

The details emerged after a Freedom of Information request in the United States revealed details of the UK-USA talks.

The information reveals a desperate Westminster Government sent 27 members of staff from the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) with no experience of negotiating trade deals to Washington to negotiate with a 77-strong US delegation which included seasoned trade officials with decades of negotiations under their belts. 

Details from the agenda reveal that the so-called trade working group with the USA discussed trade strategy, textiles and apparels, regulatory issues, industrial tariffs and agriculture. Despite the Westminster Government down-playing the significance of the controversy over chlorine-washed chicken, the working group spent two hours discussing "agriculture and SPS" (SPS referring to sanitary and phytosanitary trade issues - such as the controversies over chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-reared beef) - longer than any other sector.

The information will cause particular concern for the agriculture sector in the UK, and Welsh farmers in particular, whose market face being flooded with cheap, lower quality imports, undercutting their prices.

Plaid Cymru says the information confirms the importance of the Customs Union and has urged the Conservatives and the Labour Party to support continued membership of the existing Customs Union.

The UK's membership of the Customs Union gives all UK countries access to free trade agreements with more than 60 other countries around the world - the other Customs Union members and other countries with whom the Customs Union has a free trade agreement - negotiated collectively to improve terms. Leaving the Customs Union means losing all current free trade arrangements and negotiating new deals without the benefit of doing so jointly with our partners, inevitably meaning poorer terms for the UK.

The Government's own analysis shows that every country in the UK will be worse off if we leave the Customs Union, even if free trade agreements are signed.

Commenting, Plaid Cymru's Brexit spokesperson in Westminster, Hywel Williams MP, said:

"This perfectly illustrates why staying in the Customs Union is so important. We already have free trade arrangements with more than 60 countries thanks to our place in the Customs Union - trade agreements that were negotiated collectively, strengthening our hand and maximising the benefits for us from those trade deals.

"These details from the American trade group give us a glimpse of our future outside the Customs Union. A weak, inexperienced and desperate group of civil servants trying to strike a trade deal with markets five times bigger than ours, with experienced trade negotiators. It is simply not possible to replicate what we are able to do as part of the Customs Union, on our own.

"Clearly some sectors will be sacrificed to ensure others are protected and we need only look at Westminster's every-day priorities to see which sectors are set to lose and which will be protected. Particularly concerning is the Westminster Government's insistence on holding these talks in secret - not just in the USA but with the 14 other trade groups across the world. What are they hiding from us?

"This is why Plaid Cymru is adamant that every country in the UK should be involved in these talks, not just England, and that every country should have to sign any deals off before they are implemented, to ensure our own key sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture are protected, not just the City of London.

"Westminster's flat out refusal to treat Wales and Scotland as equals alongside England means there is only one option - for the whole of the UK to stay in the Customs Union and to maintain our strong position as a global trading bloc. 

"Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party must reverse their position and make it clear that we will stay in the existing Customs Union."

ENDS

The Westminster Government had previously admitted to holding secret trade talks with the following 14 groups but had refused to share any information:

  • Andean Community (Peru, Colombia and Ecuador)
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE)
  • Israel
  • India
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • USA

Details from the American Freedom of Information request are available here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4106923-US-UK-Trade-Meeting-FOIA-Redacted-1.html

Letters sent between the UK and the US agreeing to keep the talks secret are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/arrangement-for-exchanging-information-during-the-uk-us-trade-and-investment-working-group

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

PLAID RIGHT ON CITY ‘MASTERPLAN’


Reports that Newport Council has got a poor response from the public and business community to its city centre ‘masterplan’ proposals proves Plaid Cymru right, say the party’s Newport group.

Peter Keelan, Plaid Newport City Development Spokesperson, said:

“Plaid Cymru in Newport responded to the Council masterplan proposals stating they were too short-term, too timid, and wholly unimaginative. They lacked any clear joined-up thinking, and showed no real coherent strategy or or well thought out action-plan to get us out of the recession in Newport.” 

He continued:

“The failure of the Council  to engage and enthuse people in Newport in its consultation is an indication they are out of touch with the seriousness of the economic problems we face, and are failing to offer any hope to businesses or young people who have to grapple with the reality of our austerity economy”.

Peter stated:

“Plaid Cymru recommend a bold, ambitious, international response for our city centre masterplan, which included creating stunning iconic 21st century business and residential buildings along Usk Way, supporting a major revamp of  our heritage architectural 19th century retail axis along Commercial Street. We proposed a major international  fine art and design festival and musuem to attract people to those subjects in our University plus the creation of an international quality ‘sports village’, right on the riverbank area with stakeholders at Rodney Parade “.

He concluded:

“We await the Labour Council’s response to these proposals, which would gain a positive response from both the public and business community”.

DIWEDD / ENDS 

Plaid Cymru’s response to the Newport City Master plan

The Plaid Cymru detailed document runs to eight pages, and proposes over 90 recommendations for the city centre, which are bold, imaginative, and international to approach Newport’s economic regeneration.