Sunday, July 30, 2017


Passchendaele 1917

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the Passchendaele battle, which was a series of linked battles, in terrible conditions that have come to many people to personify the Western Front. My family like far too many others in Wales and elsewhere lost relatives in the First World War, one of my grandmother’s lost two brothers in the First World War, including her elder being a regular soldier, who wrote home and told them not to allow his younger brother to join up and to come out to France, but he did answer the call and was killed in action in the spring of 1918 and buried near Amiens.

Remembrance Sunday this year will fall at the end of three years worth of former P M David Cameron’s (£50 million pounds worth) "historic" commemoration of the centenary of the First World War I. I have absolutely no problem remembering those who lost their lives and the courage and endurance of those who served in the First World War and other conflicts (including some of my relatives); but I have no time for rose tinted nostalgic flag waving foot tapping pap as peddled by the usual suspect red top newspapers, much as it was peddled some one hundred years ago.

In Flanders fields...
As US President Abraham Lincoln rightly noted that the fallen have given their last full measure of devotion. Soldiers don’t die for the politicians, for patriotism or even us but for their friends and comrades who they serve with. Too many lie in corners of foreign fields, are names on a war memorial, faded photographs, faded memories or have no grave at all. The Lions may well on occasion have been led by Donkeys (even if the original quote was made up), but from our (21st century) perspective they were governed by bumbling incompetent secretive idiots who were entirely out of their depth and managed to plunge the UK into an entirely unnecessary war.

Fritz Fischer’s suggested that the Imperial German government’s foreign policy was developed after Social Democratic gains in the 1912 election and that it aimed to start an aggressive war in 1914. He developed this idea in Germany's Aims in the First World War (1961) and War of Illusions: German policies from 1911 to 1914 (1969). Fischer suggested that a War Council held by the Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Reich's top military-naval leadership on December 8, 1912 was a key point in the run up to a war of aggression set for the summer of 1914. The Kaiser and the Army leadership wanted to start a war in December 1912 but Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, successfully argued that the German Navy needed more time to prepare and asked for the war be put off until the summer of 1914.  Fischer later denied claiming that war was decided upon at this meeting.

Fischer’s work revealed Imperial German government documents which called for ethnic cleansing of Russian Poland and colonization to provide Germany with living space as a war aim, showed disturbing continuity between the foreign policies of Germany in 1914 and 1939. Andreas Hillgruber suggested that the Imperial German government tried to break the Triple Entente (Russia, France and Britain). Austria-Hungary was encouraged to invade Serbia on the assumption that Paris and London would have no interest in another Balkan crisis and would not support Russia. Austria attacked, Russia mobilized, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg panicked and activated the Schlieffen Plan against France and a relatively localised Balkan crisis rapidly became a general European and world war.

A.J.P. Taylor's 1969 book War by Timetable, suggested that none of the great powers wanted a war but all of them wanted to increase their power in comparison with their rivals. This fatal combination of an arms race and complex railway timetables for mobilization came to a head in 1914 when a perceived need to mobilize faster than their rivals trapped the political leaders in a mesh of complex logistics. Mobilization failed to deter war and led to military action.

In 1972 US historian Paul W. Schroeder, in his "World War I As A Galloping Gertie" essay, blamed Britain for the war. He suggested that the war was a "Galloping Gertie” that it got out of control, dragging in the Great Powers into an unwanted war. The key to the situation was British foreign policy which as anti-German and even more anti-Austrian. Britain never took Austria-Hungary seriously, and British diplomatic policy aimed to constantly force concessions from the Dual Monarchyregardless of any consequences to the balance of power. So 1914 was basically a preventive war forced on Germany to maintain Austria as a power, which was faced with a crippling British encirclement policy aimed at the break-up of that state.

Not everyone has bought into this theory, Samuel R. Williamson (a US historian) laid the blame on the Austro-Hungarian elite rather than the Germans in his 1990 book, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War. Niall Ferguson (the Scottish Historian) in his book, 
The Pity of War(1999) rejected the Fischer thesis, and squarely laid most of the blame on British diplomatic bumbling. More recently, David Fromkin (a US historian) in his book Europe's Last Summer(2004) blamed military elements in the German and Austro-Hungarian leadership.

Fromkin argued that there were two key war plans; one by Austria-Hungary (and the German Chancellor) to start a war with Serbia to reinvigorate a fading Austro-Hungarian Empire. The other one, a secret plan created by the German Military aimed create a wider war with France and Russia.  The German military leadership, in the middle of a European arms race, thought that they would be unable to further expand the German army without extending the officer corps beyond the traditional Prussian aristocracy.

Thus Austria-Hungary was encouraged to go to war with Serbia; Russian intervention would provide an acceptable excuse to launch a preventive war. This theory suggests that the German military believed that by 1916–18, they could not win a war with France, Russia and Britain. Fromkin argued that Kaiser Wilhelm II was kept in the dark, as the German General Staff believed that he tended to resolve crises short of war. He also noted that all participating countries (especially the Central Powers) systematically destroyed or forged documents to shape future understanding of the origins of the war.

Some forty five years after its publication Fischer’s theory is still not without its critics. Annika Mombauer (Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the Open University) suggested in her book, Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War (2005) that despite the debate and research there was no direct evidence to suggest military decision-makers understood December 1912 as the decisive moment when the date of a future war had been set.

Christopher Clarke, in The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (published in September 2012) argues that the Europe (of 1914) was actually in a more of a mess than we realise with clashing ideologies, terrorism, political and economic militancy and chronic instability. To make matters worse Europe was lumbered with an exceptionally ineffectual set of political leaders. The rulers of Europe, who boasted of their modernity and rationalism, in reality stumbled through crisis after crisis and until they ended up at war.

In the hundred years since its outbreak interpretation of the origins of the First World War has often been shaped by politics. Certainly since 1918 the left (from Karl Liebknecht onwards) has always been more comfortable blaming militarism for the First World War rather than their own failure to stop it at least until the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union (1988 – 1992).  The old SPD argument that within pre war Germany there had been an alliance of agrarians and industrialists who with the Prussian aristocracy had encouraged militarism and this led to war.

The idea that militarism fed the industrialists and fed popular state nationalism helping to reduce the influence of the left is still popular in some circles. It sounds good; the problem is that it’s too simple and explanation, and was probably not true, as noted by Niall Fergusson amongst others. There were other factors which were increasingly important in the run up to 1914. In many countries the franchise was expanding (if admittedly only slowly in some countries) and political parties with an anti militarist streak were rising in popularity. Industrial discontent and strikes had also pretty widespread between 1910 and 1914 across much of Europe.

Closer to home, across the water in Ireland home rule was the key issue and probably the most significant issue in domestic politics on the UK mainland. Britain in 1914 rather than enjoying a post Edwardian summer was on the verge of civil war over Irish Home Rule and faced massive industrial unrest. Italy had been rocked by the Red Week of June 1914, France and Germany were also faced with ever-increasing political strife. To the east, Russia itself also faced a huge wave of strikes and Austria-Hungary also faced rising ethnic and class tensions.

So rather than marching in step towards war political anti militarism was increasing. Most businessmen, financiers and bankers (including the Bank of England) were pretty unenthusiastic about the prospects and consequences of war because of the loss of markets and the economic disruption that war would bring. Liberalism itself was in deeply trouble, collapsing in face of challenges from the extreme right and left in Britain, France and Italy while it was pretty non-existent in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia.

August 1914
The key factor as the countries on the European mainland blundered into war in 1914 due to a complex web of treaties and mobilization dependent war plans may have simply been ineptitude on the part of their leaders. The British state drifted into the ensuing conflict because its rulers were not bright enough to manage to stay out of it. Britain went to war in 1914 for no particular great principal and certainly not for the sake of Belgium’s neutrality. That alleged great principal was only created after the fact to hide British diplomatic blunders and miscalculations which resulted in the death and maiming of millions.

Putting the historical analysis to one side, I personally have a major problem with wrapping up the consequences of a combination of idiocy, short sightedness and lack of any understanding of basic consequences on the part of a mostly public school dominated nominally democratic elite in miles of bunting and union flags. Britain (in 1914) was barely a democracy, votes for all (at 21) did not finally come in until 1928, and post war governments soon found that live heroes (‘Homes fit for Heroes’) cost far more to remember and honour than dead ones.

From former PM Cameron’s perspective even the choice of dates to be 'celebrated' proved potentially controversial in itself? June 28th (2014) marked the anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo that started the European slide into war. Yet the Brits never really got involved in the mounting crisis until the very end of July 1914. August 1st saw Germany declare war on Russia and Serbia, France mobilized on the evening of August 2nd, when Germany invaded Belgium and attacked French troops. On August 3rd, Germany declared war on France. August 4th proved understandably more significant on this side of La Manche, as Britain declared war on Germany, nominally because of the invasion of Belgium. 

Fusiliers at Mons August 1914
When it came to selecting battles to commemorate the choice was interesting with Mons (23rd – 24th August 1914) and La Cateau (26th August 1914) both relatively small and largely British battles. What followed in rapid succession was First Marne (5th and 12th September 1914), First Aisne (13th September – 28th September 1914), La Bassée (10th October – 2nd November 1914) and First Ypres (19th October – 22nd November 1914).After the Mons and La Cateau much of the fighting of 1914 (on the Western Front) largely involved mostly French and Belgian troops attempting to hold off the German Armies.

Britain's involvement (aside from at sea) was initially limited to its small regular army and the Territorial Army. The larger British army’s never emerged until 1915 and 1916 (after conscription came in). One result of the brutal and sustained fighting of the autumn and early winter of 1914 was that by the end of the year the precision instrument that was the regular army had almost ceased to exist. The grim battles of Flanders halted the German advance short of the Channel Ports and Picardy and established the trench line that would become the Western Front of 1915 – 1918.

It is worth noting and worth remembering that Wales lost more men per capita than any other nation involved in the conflict. After the Somme, Ypres became the grim focus of the Western front. Back in 1917 where there was significant Welsh involvement with the 38th (Welsh) Division, the 29th Division with the 2nd South Wales Borderers and the 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment and the Welsh Guards in the Guards Division all serving time at the Salient.

Many Welshmen who served in many other Welsh units and non Welsh units throughout the Salient from 1914 onwards and also in the multitude of non-Welsh units, not to forget the artillery, medical, supply and Tunnelling Companies, amongst other units. The grim battle of attrition lasted from the 31st July to the 6th November 1917.

It was fought in the heaviest rain for 30 years, which made the mud so deep that men and horses drowned. The battle ground to a halt when British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele, this village was barely five miles beyond the starting point of the offensive. There were approximately 325,000 Allied casualties and some 260,000 German casualties by the battles end, amongst the many Welsh casualties was the poet 
Hedd Wyn.

Homes fit for Heroes
During the last 16 years successive Westminster governments have worked hard to ensure that our service personnel have had a much higher profile, making use of various important anniversaries of previous conflicts, sporting occasions and regularly promoting armed forces day.

The direct involvement of UK service personnel in the cycle of Blair’s wars has wound down, but we should remember how Westminster (with the honourable exception of the 1945 Labour Government) has treated our war veterans after previous war’s ended and faded into memory. We all need to work to ensure that never again does a Westminster Government makes the decision that dead heroes are cheaper and less trouble to maintain than live ones.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Plaid Cymru to amend Courts Bill to introduce public register.

Plaid Cymru has called for a domestic violence offenders register to be introduced urgently following the conviction of Marvyn Iheanacho for the murder of the five-year-old son of his girlfriend.

Marvyn Iheanacho, 39, was jailed for life this week having battered his girlfriend’s five-year-old son, Alex Malcolm, to death in a London park for losing a trainer.

During the trial it emerged he had been convicted for domestic violence offences against five previous partners. His victim’s mother was not aware of his previous convictions.

Plaid Cymru has been told by domestic violence experts that hundreds if not thousands of men have multiple domestic violence victims.

1.4 million women each year suffer some form of domestic abuse according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and according to the domestic abuse charity, SafeLives, seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in Wales and England. Reporting and conviction rates for sexual offences and domestic violence remain low - only seven per cent of reported rape offenders are convicted and only ten per cent of sexual offences, according to the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the ONS.

Plaid Cymru’s Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts MP says that the law as it stands is not fit-for-purpose and she intends to introduce amendments to the British Government’s Courts Bill in the autumn to introduce a domestic violence offenders register.

She has tabled a number of written questions to the British Government including to the Home Office on whether any consideration has been given to requiring Police and Crime Commissioners to publish an annual plan in respect of domestic violence and abuse; and whether there are any plans to review the penalties for breach of a restraining order where it was issues following proven domestic violence. The questions are awaiting response.

Commenting, Plaid Cymru’s Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts MP said:

“The brutal murder of five-year-old Alex Malcolm was devastating and the pain now suffered by his mother, and girlfriend of her son’s murderer is unimaginable.

“That this crime was committed by someone who had five previous convictions for domestic abuse shows that the justice system is failing victims.

“Campaigners and charities are telling us that there are hundreds, if not thousands of men have multiple domestic violence victims but currently the onus is on the victim to ask the police for details about prospective partners and it is not surprising that this is rarely done.

“I will be seeking to amend the Courts Bill when it comes to Parliament in the autumn to introduce a domestic violence offenders register. Offenders should be placed on the register for a lifetime and if an offender has more than two victims, there should be further restrictions such as a requirement to report to the police on specified occasions, or unannounced police visits to the offender’s home.”

Victims’ rights campaigner, Harry Fletcher, said:

“Increasingly the courts are finding that he same perpetrator has multiple domestic victims. Urgent action is needed. There is an overwhelming need for a domestic violence offenders register and offenders must be put on the register for a lifetime.”


Notes to editors:

A list of written parliamentary questions tabled by Liz Saville Roberts is available here:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Our cash in their pocket...
Putting the controversy of the totally tactless / seriously tasteless / completely crass [delete as appropriate] Iron Ring of the North aside, it s a symptom of part of the problem, in that our country is often perceived as some sort of giant theme part or outdoor pursuits park for others amusement or enrichment. This attitude also clearly applies to making a fast buck out of our natural resources often at our expense, especially if it can be financed by our public money.

While our country’s voice has been significantly strengthened since 1999, with various Wales related acts, as yet we still do not have the same degree of control of our natural resources as either Scotland or Northern Ireland. Amongst our rich resources is the literal stuff of life – water. Water is likely to become a valuable resource for the people of Wales in future years, and who owns, it who controls it, and who benefits is likely to remain one of the key issues, of potential dispute between Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

The issue of water still understandably raises strong emotions and stirs long memories here in Wales. Five years ago Boris Johnson (who was the then solely Mayor of London, but, after May 2015 an MP and after June 2016 other things) started wittering on about a network of canals being needed to carry water from the wet North to the dry South (for the ‘wet North’ in reality read much of ‘Wales).

Now Boris's revolutionary thought, along with his poor grasp of geography, was no new idea, in 1973, the then Water Resources Board, the government agency (now defunct) produced a major report that advocated building a whole raft of infrastructure to aid the movement of water, not to mention constructing freshwater storage barrages in the Ouse, Wash and Morecambe Bay, using a network of canals to move water from north to south, extending reservoirs and building new aqueducts, not to mention constructing a series of tunnels to link up river basins to aid the movement of water.

The Plan for Water back in the 1970's
Despite the demise of the Water Resources Board in 1974 (somewhat ironically two years before the 1976 drought) and its replacement by regional water management bodies, which were privatised in the 1980’s this issue has never really gone away. In 2006, the Environment Agency produced a report entitled "Do we need large-scale water transfers for south-east England ?" which in a refreshingly honest answer to its own question at the time was an emphatic ‘no’.

Yet faced with a prolonged period of drought in the South East of England, DEFRA itself held a drought summit on the 20th of February of 2012. The then Con Dem Government stated that it remained committed to the remaining legislative measures set out in its Water for Life agenda , which later became the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act.

That is as they say history, but whatever Westminster eventually decides to do in relation to water resources, we in Wales still need to have full democratic control of our own resources. Our resources incidentally should include those parts of our country where Severn Trent Plc runs our natural resources for a fat profit.

This process can begin with repatriating control of the Crown Estates and transferring control of lands in (and off-shore) to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. For the life of me I can see no realistic reason why this feudal anachronism cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The stuff of life...
We need a whole Wales strategy to develop and to conserve our water supplies and our planning regulations will need to be tweaked or rewritten accordingly. We need to take a long hard look at our water resources and what we get for them and how we can develop them.

I see absolutely no reason why the Welsh people cannot fully benefit from any future exploitation of Welsh resources, including our water. Most politically aware people would not have been particularly shocked to discover that coincidentally that the Government of Wales Act (2006) thanks largely to Peter Hain (amongst others) specifically excluded the Assembly from making any laws relating to water supply – hmm – odd that isn't it?

Now such duplicitous behaviour on the part of New or re-born Old Labour is not to be unexpected. The problem is that it does little to engender any trust or visible demonstration of an understanding of devolution or Wales, especially when Labour starts talking about re-nationalising the Water industry.

Putting recent Tory and Labour spin and election rhetoric aside, the bottom line is that all our water resources should belong to the Welsh people, not to Private corporations or to the UK Government. Any future draft Wales Bill should strengthen the powers that we in Wales have over our natural resources and associated planning processes and devolve control of those parts of the Severn Trent water franchise to Wales.

Monday, July 24, 2017


Saturday, July 22, 2017


A soon to be toll free bridge, but, with some consequences...
While the long suffering commuters who have been taxed for going to work, and many businesses are looking forward to the demise of the Severn Bridge tolls, there will be consequences for all of us, who are becoming increasingly second class subjects, in an increasingly unequal union. It may well be the estate agents and house builders who really cash in. Once the tolls go house prices and the pressure to build new houses to deal with the demand for cheaper housing from across the bridge.

Simply building houses in south Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen to cash in on the projected housing shortage in the Bristol area is not acceptable; it fundamentally fails to solve the local housing shortage. I have no doubt that local residents will be effectively priced out of the market. As any proposed houses will be priced to maximise profits and effectively marketed and sold in Bristol.

Wales needs to have substantially more affordable housing otherwise an entire generation will miss out on the reasonable expectation of having a decent home. The supply of more affordable housing should be met through a combination of bringing empty properties back into use, and new developments of mixed housing in the social and private sectors, but only, when local needs and environmental sustainability have been taken into account.

Our country would be well served by the establishment of a National Housing Company, which could borrow against rents to build a new generation of public rental housing in Wales limited in number only by demand. Whatever Government holds power in Cardiff Bay should support Local Authorities that wish to build new Council Housing.

Local Authorities should be expected to agree targets for supplying affordable housing, including new social housing, with the Welsh Government, but should be given the flexibility to decide how they would achieve this based upon the needs of their area. Local Authorities will be able to develop joint plans with neighbouring local authorities, or work through housing associations or the National Housing Company, if they believed this was the best way to meet the needs of their areas.

We need to look at championing the development of new homes in small-scale housing developments in both rural and urban Wales on ‘exception sites’, where land plots, not covered by general planning permission, will be capped at an affordable price designed to benefit those in local housing need with family and work ties to the area, and whose sale will be conditional on these houses continuing in local ownership in perpetuity.

The Right to Buy scheme should be cast into the dustbin of history, its from another time, and is no longer fit for purpose. What’s left of our social housing stock needs to remain intact in order to meet the demand for homes. Along with developing social housing stock there is a need to introduce a more rigorous system in the allocation of social housing to give priority to those in local housing need.

Local democracy has been undermined, as developers (and here we are not just talking about housing) simply appear to carry on appealing until they get their way or get their development retrospectively approved at a higher level. Or the process of land acquisition literally begins before the proposal even goes to inquiry almost as if the decision has already been made.

Local government officers will (and do) advise local councillors not to turn down developments (whatever the grounds) because the developers will simply appeal until the cows come home and that local government just does not have the finances to cope with this situation.

Part of the problem is that our planning system, along with our almost nineteenth century local government setup is not designed to coexist with devolution or for that matter to deliver planning decisions with real and lasting benefits for local people and local communities. There is a real need for root and branch reform and reorganisation of our planning system; the Welsh Government’s simply decided to tinker and tweak with existing out-dated legislation rather than reform it.

Our current planning system remains far too focused on railroading through large housing developments that bring little benefits for local people and local communities and often fail to resolve real and pressing local housing needs. We need a fundamental change in planning culture to encourage appropriate and sustainable smaller scale housing developments, which are based on good design and actively promote energy efficiency and good environmental standards.

Our planning system and planning processes are too slow, too bureaucratic and too unresponsive to real local needs and local opinions. The current system is based on the post-war Town and Country Planning Act from 1947 and is simply out-dated; our country needs a modern planning system that meets the needs of modern Welsh society. In line with the realities of devolution our country needs an independent Planning inspectorate for Wales as the old single planning inspectorate for England and Wales is increasingly unsustainable.

What we badly need is a sensible properly planned housing strategy, not just for south Monmouthshire, the rest of the former county of Gwent and Cardiff, but also for the rest of our country. When it comes to large-scale housing developments, based on previous observations, we can pretty much predict what happens next.

If a planning inquiry come out against a proposed development then there will be another appeal to Cardiff – where I have little doubt that proposals will be rubber stamped by the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff (while many things may have changed this mirrors pretty much exactly what went on when Wales was run by the old Welsh Office).

Westminster ministers during the heady days of the Con Dem coalition favoured changing the planning rules (in England) to boost house building to revive the economy. The Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff naturally favoured changing to planning rules in Wales to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’.

Ironically that sentiment was perhaps aimed specifically at overturning those few occasions of late when our Local Authorities have rejected some developments (often at the behest of concerned local residents) rather than simply putting economic needs ahead of economic, environmental benefits and community cohesion.

Over the medium to long term this is fundamentally bad news for those residents of south Monmouthshire, or residents of Torfaen, who have fought the plan and the good citizens of Abergavenny who fought to retain the livestock market. Not to mention the concerned residents of Carmarthen who have worries about the impact of over large housing developments or the residents of Holyhead who opposed a planned new marina development

We in Wales, need to think outside the box, and look seriously look at the release of public land as self-build plots for affordable homes, to buy and to lease, and allow housing associations to build their own high-quality prefabricated homes as the Accord Housing Association successfully does in Walsall. This would also break the link between housing companies making fact profits and local government approved over development in and around our communities.

Our communities have been consistently ill served by the planning system, by our local authorities (via the flawed system of Unitary Development Plans) and more recently by the Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff. With increasing pressure from over development community cohesion is under threat, along with increased demand on overstretched local amenities, our NHS and our green spaces.

An opportunity to address the shortage of affordable housing, to encourage more small-scale renewable energy projects, and to actively support small businesses in relation to the Planning Bill has been missed. It is time to start the process of actually addressing the flawed LDP (Local Development Plan) system, which does not deliver for local communities and fails to serve our national interests.

Perhaps before constructing large numbers of new houses which often fail to tackle local housing needs we needs to take a long hard look at the number of empty properties something that remains largely unaddressed in many of our communities. We need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment (and seeks to create protected green belt land around and within our large and small urban communities).

We also need to holistically plan and act for the whole of Wales – something that is not happening effectively at present. All of these things are something we just won’t get without fair funding for Wales and to be honest without Labour losing the next National Assembly elections.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


We can be said live in a one sided Union, it can be argued that either the Union works for all, or it doesn't. If it doesn't then it's not a beneficial Union. It’s certainly clear that it is not a fair and equal Union, it's a Union of unequals, especially where Wales and Welsh interests are concerned.

Most recently Welsh companies have missed out on contracts worth £6.6 billion to build the first phase of England’s high speed rail line, HS2. The contracts, which will support around 16,000 jobs, have been awarded to mainly English, Austrian, Swedish and French firms.

No Welsh firms were shortlisted and no Welsh firms will participate in any consortia. A study by quantity surveyor Michael Byng, released over the weekend, estimates that the cost of building HS2 could reach over £100 billion, making it the most expensive railway in the world.

Public spending on England-only projects usually triggers consequential funding for the devolved nations but as the UK Government has designated HS2 as an “England & Wales” project, despite every inch of the railway being in England.

Wales was designated a HS2 0% rating at the last Comprehensive Spending Review for Barnett Consequentials whilst northern Ireland and Scotland were rated 100%.

A report published by accountancy firm, KPMG, in 2010 showed that HS2 will have an overall negative effect on the Welsh economy, resulting in 21,000 fewer jobs in Wales by 2040 as a result of jobs shifting to the English Midlands and the north of England.

The companies shortlisted for contracts (source:  House of Commons’ Library)
Welsh taxpayers will certainly contribute towards building the most expensive railway in the world, even though not one inch of it being in Wales and the fact that the British Government has deliberately avoided giving Wales its fair share of investment in return by describing the project as an “England and Wales” investment even though it is actually having a negative impact on jobs and wages in Wales. 
HS2 may cost £100 billion if reports are accurate, if the project was correctly labeled as an England-only project, then Wales would be entitled to £5 billion. Our share could be used to invest in our own transport infrastructure. What’s going to happen is that our taxes are being used to fund a high-speed line for England.

The Welsh Labour Government should have ensured that Welsh companies were promoted during the procurement process. There can be no excuse for the British Government to direct contracts to overseas countries, supporting jobs and wages elsewhere instead of supporting our own companies here in Wales. It should be clear by now that Westminster is not clearly working for Wales. 

The so-called ‘partnership of equals’ between the four constituent nations is merely a sham. The Union, as is, offers all the risk and little or no reward as the Labour Welsh Government simply sits on its hands. Only Plaid Cymru will stand up and fight for Wales to get its fair share of investment from HS2 and work to make sure that Westminster treats Wales fairly.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Imaginary trains...
Now and then, if you look very quickly on Newport Station, you can sometimes see the platform indicators flagging up an Ebbw Vale bound train. Blink and you might miss it - this may be the closest many rail passengers will come to seeing a ghost train. Despite regularly oft-repeated promises from the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff and more locally elected Labour in Newport representatives, there is no sign any time soon of a permanent rail connection between Ebbw Vale and Newport.

The Ebbw railway line reopened in 2008 carrying a years worth of anticipated passengers in a few months. From the start the new rail service failed to connect to Newport and the rest of the south east - a variety of lame excuses have been offered which fail to conceal that fact that the Welsh Government has been dragging its feet. Somewhat ironically periodic upgrades to track and signals in and around the Cardiff area meant that services do actually occasionally start and terminate at Newport.

The failure to connect the Ebbw vale line to Newport means that commuters living in the communities in the Ebbw valley are unable to travel directly to Newport by train and have little choice but to use their cars. They are denied the opportunity of catching connecting trains to Bristol, Cheltenham, and beyond as well as travelling slightly more rapidly to Cardiff in the morning and back again in the evening.

This was either simply a bad short-sighted decision that resulted in commuters having no choice but to choose to drive to work or was a deliberate decision. This lack of an easily accessible alternative helps to feed congestion on the M4. If we are lucky at some as yet undetermined future date the Ebbw vale link may actually begin to benefit those commuters who daily travel east to and from work.

Nothing to see here, move along...
What seems to be missing here in Wales is any real element of reopening old (or building new) railways as has happened in Scotland. In Wales in the last 17 years there have been 2 successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008). These were largely administrative rather than legislative projects, and save for the existence of the National Assembly they would have lingered on somewhere on Network Rails’ priority list.

The National Assembly, has been (with a few exceptions) been pretty muted when it comes to making the case for rail. This has certainly not been the case in Scotland, where bills to reopen old railways have been vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our under invested public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act, in February 2006, gave the National Assembly the powers but not the political will to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system. Future development plans will be complicated, as back in March 2017, the Westminster Conservative government decided, whether by accident, design or as a result of a general indifference to Wales (and Welsh interests) not to devolve control of that portion of Network Rail to the Wales but to retain it in London.

The largely non UK owned rail companies have continued to ramp up rail fares and have quietly attempting to reduce rail services (they have been thwarted in the later endeavour by some well organised local pressure groups in the case of Severn Tunnel and Chepstow in South East Gwent). All of these things have been done with the tacit co-operation of various Westminster and Welsh Governments and the Department for Transport (in London) certainly for 2 out of the 3 of these august bodies our transport issues and our infrastructure will never be a priority.

It would be nice if the government in Cardiff woke from its self induced slumbers and took the long term view, and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, to boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of its transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the Wales franchise should be run on a not for profit basis.

If we could create a not-for-distributable-profit organisation to run our railways; then profits would be available to invest in rail services. This could mean more frequent services in the South Wales valleys, more frequent journeys to West Wales and on the Cambrian line, as well as additional services between the north and south of Wales.

This could also mean more investment in new rolling stock to help keep pace with increasing passenger demand.  This is sadly not going to happen anytime soon, which is a real pity as a delivery model that is better suited to the needs of the people in Wales rather than the foreign state-owned railway shareholders dividend can be developed, would be a sensible and popular decision.  

Locally Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Severn Tunnel railway stations should be real local transport hubs, with fully integrated local bus services and better rial services. Better facilities for passengers are needed, as is the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities, which are urgently required.

Plaid in Monmouthshire has previously called for feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk. The development of a new railway station to the west of the town of Usk would significantly benefit local commuters, rail travellers and also reduce road congestion. 

The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic and timber shipments would also help. As would a realistically scoped feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads.

Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local people and reduce the ever-increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. Local priorities should be the completion of the final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport and railway stations at Caerleon (which has been in the UDP since 1986), and it should not be a case of a station at Llanwern or Magor but both as they would all help to reduce road congestion and bring benefits to local commuters and rail passengers.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Plaid Cymru peer, Dafydd Wigley on Thursday 6th July introduced a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords to ensure the police forces are adequately resourced.

Government funding for the Police in Wales and England has been cut by 25% over the past five years.

The former Plaid Cymru leader’s Bill will ensure the Police have the resources they need to carry out their core duties including combatting extremism and ensuring that communities are kept safe.

The UK Government sets the police budget on an annual basis. Lord Wigley’s Bill seeks to reform the way the Police are funded by placing a new duty on Police and Crime Commissioners to submit a funding estimate to the Secretary of State outlining the financial needs of their police force. If there is a discrepancy between the Commissioner’s estimate and the Secretary of State’s budget, it must be referred to an independent body for adjudication. Any continuing divergence between the two figures would need to be justified to Parliament by the Secretary of State.

The Bill follows reports made to Plaid Cymru by retired senior police officers that cuts to Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT) have limited the capacity of the Police to gather intelligence on extremism and gang crime.

According to research compiled by crime expert, Harry Fletcher, each SNT would have had six officers including a Sergeant and two Police Constables and covered, on average, one council ward each. Today the average is 3 staff and the area covered is 75 per cent larger.

SNTs collect intelligence on extremist, gang and criminal activity and behaviour. Information gathered on extremism is passed to the Borough Counter Terrorism Liaison Officer who in turn work with UK Counter Terrorism to assess risk and danger.

Lord Wigley’s Bill also places a duty on Police and Crime Commissioners to carry out a full risk assessment in respect of any person subject to investigation for potential extremist behaviour that could encourage, incite or instigate acts of violence. The Secretary of State must, in turn, provide sufficient resources to allow such assessments to take place.

Plaid Cymru advocates devolving policing to Wales, mirroring the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which would trigger a funding boost of around £25 million per year for the Welsh police forces.

Lord Dafydd Wigley said:

“Police forces in Wales and in England have been subjected to sustained cuts to their budgets which have undoubtedly detracted from their capacity to support the work of the security services.

“Government funding for the Police has been cut by 25% over the past five years and vital aspects of policing and public safety are now under-resourced as a result.

“Units such as Safer Neighbourhood Teams, which carry out crucial work in support of counter terrorism efforts, have been cut to the bone. Ten years ago, Safer Neighbourhood Teams, which collect intelligence on extremist, gang and criminal activity, would have had six officers including a Sergeant and two Police Constables and they covered, on average, one council ward each. Now each team has an average of just three members of staff and cover areas that are 75 per cent bigger than before.

“Public safety surely has to be a government’s top priority and yet the UK Government seems willing to put public safety at risk.

“My Bill seeks to ensure that the Police have the resources they need to carry out their duty to keep the public safe. It would ensure that police budgets reflect their needs, allowing vital units such as Safer Neighbourhood Teams to take a greater role in supporting the work of security and intelligence services.

“I hope that my Bill will attract cross-party support today.”

Crime expert and director of Digital Trust, Harry Fletcher, who worked Lord Wigley on the Bill said:

“The fall in the number of police officers has had an impact on the Police’s capacity to gather intelligence. This Bill would ensure that police budgets were the subject of independent scrutiny and bring about greater accountability to the Home Office. Public protection must come first.”


Notes to editors:
Bill summary

The Bill seeks to place a duty on Police and Crime Commissioners to submit a funding proposal, which the Secretary of State must either agree to, or refer to an independent body. It would require the Secretary of State to justify any divergence between the proposal and the final settlement to the House of Commons.

It will also place a duty on the Treasury to provide additional resources to a police force in the event of a major incident; and place a duty on all organisations, departments or authorities involved in any crime incidents where there are multiple victims to retain and make available to the Police all relevant evidence and documentation.

Supporting statistics

Government funding for the Welsh and English police forces has been cut by 25% over the last five years:

According to crime expert, Harry Fletcher, the cost of surveillance for one week on one person is at least £26,000 which equates to over £1.4 million for a full year.

WalesOnline coverage of figures supporting claim that if policing was devolved, Welsh police forces would be £25 million per hear better off: