Wednesday, September 27, 2017


What do you do with those bits of the state you don’t value? Or perhaps those bits of the state that have been historically exploited and ravaged for their mineral wealth and are perceived to be peripheral to Westminster’s interests?
Toxic waste might be an idea, or perhaps super prisons. Its perhaps easier if you have the active co-operation of a glove puppet government that regularly struggles to stand up for our communities let alone our nations national interests.
Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform responding to plans to build yet another new, 1,600 capacity mega-prison near Port Talbot, hit the nail on the head, by noting that Wales is being turned into a “penal colony” and the “Botany Bay of the 21st century”. She correctly noted that there was already a mega-prison in Wrexham, HMP Berwyn, and three others in Swansea, Usk and Cardiff.
Wales is becoming the Botany Bay of 21st century,” she said. “England shoving its urban poor onto the hulks & shipping them off to Wales." A fair question to ask “Is England turning Wales into a new penal colony?
Frances Cook also rejected any suggestions that the prison could create new jobs in Wales, warning that it would have low staffing and probably lead to job losses at prisons in Swansea and Cardiff.
The UK Government had already been accused of dumping England’s prison population on Wales after it was revealed that fewer than 10% of HMP Berwyn’s prisoners are from the north of Wales.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that Berwyn was never built to cater for Welsh needs, but rather “built in response to the overcrowding crisis in English prisons”.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has said the land at Baglan would be better used as part of a new transport network for Swansea Bay. She also said the prison row was an example of Mr Jones's economic policies "leading us to a situation where our national interests are not being upheld".

Labour’s economic policy is leading us to a situation where our national interests are not being upheld. Devolution and self-government is supposed to allow to look after our own needs and to be an equal partner with our neighbours, not a servant.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Thursday, September 21, 2017


Our small businesses in Wales make a vitally important contribution to our economy and account for 95% of all businesses in Wales; it is vital we support this sector. Business rates still account for a significant part of operating costs for small businesses and as a result prevent businesses from growing, from investing in themselves and in many cases, creating more jobs. 

We need to remove the burden of business rates and allow our private sector to flourish and create employment opportunities.  Small businesses are vital for our economy, they form the backbone of our economy and they are vital in terms of spreading economic growth beyond the cities and into our cities, larger and smaller towns. 

If we truly want our small towns across Wales to be thriving, then we have to support small businesses. Business rates are a burden – they account for a far greater proportion of operating costs for a small business than they do for large businesses. Plaid has long championed the importance of local economies when it comes to generating national wealth. 

Every £1 spent in a local business selling local produce is worth twice as much to the economy as £1 spent in a supermarket, due to local reinvestment and spending. As long noted by the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, every £10 pound spent in a local business circulates at least three times before it leaves the local economy rather than vanishing when spent in the branches of chains. 

A Plaid Cymru government would further extend the rate relief scheme that we implemented in Government to covers all businesses whose rateable value is £10,000 or less and extend the tapered relief scheme up to £20,000.  Some 90,000 businesses could see a reduction in their business rates as a result and more than 70,000 businesses across Wales would be taken out of the rates system. 

Plaid would raise the money, which would go towards paying for this, by mirroring the business rates system, as it currently exists in England where large businesses pay more than small businesses. While larger businesses would pay more, they would still pay less in Wales than they would across the border. The extra money raised through the increased bill for large businesses would raise more than enough to cut bills for small businesses.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Tuesday, September 19, 2017


I have long believed (and remain yet to be convinced otherwise) that Westminster government’s regardless of their political hue, before and after devolution, and before and after BREXIT, remain fundamentally indifferent to our needs, our aspirations and our national interests.  The cancelation of the electrification of the Great Western line, from Cardiff to Swansea (something that had been quietly anticipated for sometime by more than a few people) came as no real surprise. I had long advocated beginning the electrification process at the Swansea end of the line, something that may well have made the cancellation more difficult.

Swansea Tidal still waiting for a decision...
The foot-dragging over the fate of the Swansea Tidal lagoon is ominous, but sadly to be expected from a Westminster system that remains hooked on expensive subsidies to foreign owned and foreign constructed Nuclear power stations. One reason for this is that it is perhaps easier for former energy minsters to get better paid jobs post their involvement in politics, with subsidy rich energy companies. 

Interest in developing Tidal lagoons is not new; the idea has been floated around in Wales since the late 1990’s. The problem is that successive private companies have moved on or lost interest when faced with sluggish perhaps finely calculated indifference from both government (at all levels) and the civil service.  

Post BREXIT we need the Tidal lagoons more than ever, if Westminster is serious about reducing the UK’s dependence on imported energy supplies from unstable regions, run by brutal repressive regimes – then developing Tidal lagoons could be a step towards real energy independence. Rather than marshaling their lame tired old excuses as to why they cannot or won’t buy in to the project, we need a commitment to secure power generation. 

We also need the devolution of powers relating to energy resource development to Wales and a Welsh government that is not sleeping on the job. Post BREXIT we need to step away from our low wage culture and to develop a much more economically dynamic and sustainable Welsh economy.  We are not going to get any o these things with a Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay that’s too busy looking after its own personal and party political interests rather than our national interests.

Back in January 2017, a former energy minster, Charles Hendry, after looking at the latest proposals, came up with a positive endorsement.  It’s now nearly October, and despite the distractions of the Westminster general election and the shambolic post BREXIT negotiations (and associated faffing about) we find that Westminster has gone all Simon and Garfunkel on us here in Wales – all we are getting is the sound of silence.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017


Bank closures, are a simple sad fact of life for many communities across much of rural and not so rural Wales – this is despite the fact that high street banks could and should have a roll to play within the economic life of our communities. The local political and community leaders rightly kick off and justifiably angry local residents are  interviewed  by local media. There will be the usual weasel words from the bank themselves, but, once the initial fuss settles the closure will roll on – as the large London based banks are pretty much answerable to no one save themselves – certainly not anyone here in Cymru / Wales.

The numbers (since 2015):
  • 57 banks have closed
  • 24 belong to Barclays
  • 17 belonged to Nat West
  • 13 belong to Lloyds
  • 3 belonged to HSBC

This summer Natwest closed branches in Porthmadog, Holywell, Prestatyn, Ruthin and Menai Bridge - branches in Pontypool, Ebbw Vale and Machchynleth will close in October 2017. Barclays will close another nine branches including Porth, Llandaff, Welshpool and Clydach.

Last November (11th) 2016 Lloyd’s quietly announced that branches in Abertillery (Blaenau Gwent), Crickhowel (Powys), Llandovery (Carmarthenshire), Canton (Cardiff), Pontarddulais (Swansea), Tregaron (Ceridigion) along with banks in Newport, Milford Haven and Mountain Ash were to be closed between March and April 2017. The reason, according to Lloyd’s is the changing way that customers do their banking.

Back in January 11th 2016 HSBC announced that branches in Ruabon, Chirk, Amlwch and Menai Bridge will close in April. Back in June 2015 Natwest announced its plans to close 11 branches in north Wales in September (St Asaph, Denbigh, Corwen and Llangollen in Denbighshire, as will the branches in Abersoch, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn in Gwynedd and those in Abergele and Rhos-on-Sea in Conwy, Buckley in Flintshire and Rossett in Wrexham).

The BBC (back in July 2016) noted that more than 600 bank branches have closed across the UK over the previous year, with rural areas worst affected and that parts of Wales, Scotland and south west England lost the most per population between April 2015 and April 2016. The figures obtained revealed that five of the top 10 areas losing banks are in Wales: Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire. The data revealed by BBC Breakfast - came from the big six High Street banks: Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Santander, Barclays and the Co-operative.

At the end of October 2014 Lloyd’s announced that it would close 150 branches (7% of its 2,250 branches) and shed some 9,000 jobs (the bank has incidentally already shed 43,000 jobs since the largely bank driven financial crash back in 2008). In October 2014, Vince Cable, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills stated that he was going to write to UK banks to demanding that the banks commit to keeping ‘the last branch in town’ open. Sadly was probably a little late as a growing number of communities in Wales, which already have no bank (28 as of December 2015), and the forty-seven which only have one bank, as noted by the Campaign for Community Banking Services.

The problem of closing banks affects all parts of Wales, while it is more readily identifiable in rural communities; also affects our urban communities as well – inconveniencing both personal and business customers. Bank closures proportionally hit older people harder as they may have problems with access to regular public transport. Age Cymru also noted that having a local bank that was convenient for older people was "vital" for ensuring they did not become socially isolated and that older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures.

More locally in Newport we had the stealth-like closure of local high street banks - Caerleon’s HSBC branch in Backhall Street (closed on 2nd November 2012) – despite a campaign to save the small town’s only bank from closure, which had gained the support of hundreds of people who signed a petition against the closure. HSBC had already closed the next nearest branch to Caerleon, on Caerleon Road, in St Julian’s (which was closed June 2011) – so much of listening to their customers.
While Lloyds in 2011/2012 was in the frame for a raft of closures, HSBC had already systematically closed branches across much of Wales - Presteigne, (which closed on Friday 9th March 2012) despite over 500 people signing a petition against the closure), and Blaenafon, in Torfaen (which closed on the 11th May 2012) despite over a 1,000 people signed a petition against the closure of what was literally the last bank in the town). The excuse was that both banks had seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and the branches were no longer commercially viable.

Campaigners against bank closures rightly claim that businesses in an area where a bank closes suffer and that residents (especially the elderly) who are reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town are disadvantaged. Just for the record HSBC had closed six branches in Wales between September 2010 and December 2011, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys.

The company has closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales (since 2009) in both urban and rural areas. HSBC, Barclays and the rest have been quietly closing small rural banks in recent years, and NatWest and Barclays have also reduced bank-opening hours. The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go on-line and banks must examine branch-running costs.

Ditching the the spin (about the growth in on-line banking and it’s use – if you have no choice what else are people going to do) this is about nothing more than cutting running costs, the banks have little (or no concern) for their relatively unprofitable personal customers or the concerns of their local business customers or our smaller communities. As has been noted by the US Senate, some banks have other more pressing interests than those of their domestic customers like helping to launder money for drug dealers, dictators and terrorists, so much for being a local bank.

Local banks are good for the high street and local communities, they help to promote vitality and vibrancy and make it easier for local businesses to operate. Local businesses to a degree benefit from the existence of local high street branches by picking up passing trade from bank customers. Once local bank branches close, the impact will be felt locally especially by older residents and local business owners who have to trek further and further to pay in their taking and the subsequent drop in passing trade – this situation has been aggravated by the demise of many building societies.

It is perhaps a pity that we don’t have some sort of risk free Post Office Savings bank – save for the fact that it was recklessly sold of by a previous Conservative government on the cheap. That said, it is of course important to remember that one result of the demise of the regional banks was the rise of the big 4 banks which led to the growth of the reckless casino banking and cheap credit that brought about the financial crash.

When you factor in the ruthless Post Office closure programme that was pushed through by the then Labour Government, the former Con - Dem coalition government prior to it’s privatisation of the Post Office which in turn was preceded by the rapid floatation and rapid demise of most of our building societies you can clearly see how we got here - sorting the mess out is not going to be easy – perhaps we need some sort of publically owned community owned Wales savings bank.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


One anniversary that was largely uncelebrated during the ongoing First World War commemorations was that of the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Sykes-Picot-Sazanov agreement. This agreement between France, Imperial Russia and Britain, divided up most of the Arab lands of the then Ottoman Empire (May 19th 1916) and created the boundaries of the modern Middle East.

One hundred and one years later an arc of instability stretches from North West Africa, through the Middle East and on through Pakistan, Afghanistan to the western fringes of the People's Republic of China. Some of this instability has been fed by local wars, local repressive dictatorships (historically supported by various sides in the Cold War) and a whole series of unresolved on-going political problems - some of which, but certainly not all relates to the failure to peacefully resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

A significant measure of responsibility lies with the West and it's history of inept irresponsible intervention and self-serving foreign policy. Some of which date back to self interested (at the time secret) decisions made during the First World War as the Ottoman Empire was to be dismembered by keen and interested parties at least up until the emergence of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Refuge wise we have been here before, at the end of the First World War, waves of refugees from Armenia, Greece and what was about to become the Soviet Union (then under Lenin and Trotsky) fled to find safety and security. At least in the 1920’s the League of Nations managed to create an internationally recognised and respected system of identity / travel documents, known as Nansen certificates for refuges.

A measure of responsibility for the current instability also lies with the Arab states themselves, initially largely creations of the Imperial powers (Britain and France) - the Arab governments have almost entirely failed to integrate refuges from 1948 into society and choose to leave them to rot in refugee camps on the fringes of society. Repressive Arab governments of various persuasions conveniently raised the issue of the Palestinians and Israel to periodically distract their own oppressed citizens.

Quite understandably the current refugees from Syria have no desire to find themselves in the same situation as the Palestinians, some of whom have been living largely excluded from society in squalid overcrowded refugee camps since 1947. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have all taken in large numbers of refuges - but it’s time for the Gulf States to fork out some cash to pay for significant no strings attached humanitarian aid in Turkey and Lebanon each of whom have taken in over two million refuges.

The Turks continue to play their own game, largely allowing the two-way transit of people and oil into Turkey and out of then ISIS controlled fragments of Syria and Iraq - something that NATO is probably well aware of – aside from trying to lump the Kurds in with ISIS. Trying to recreate a unified Syria and a unified Iraq will have to involve a serious commitment of aid and much military aid (and military advisors) - after the costly failures in Iraq and costly partial successes in Afghanistan - this is probably not going to happen. 

The case for air strikes in Syria remains was only partially made at the second attempt in a reluctant Westminster - there were still too many unanswered questions. As vile as ISIS has been  (these are the people who brought back enslavement, beheadings, and other appalling atrocities) the case for war was not been made.

The former PM's made the questionable claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian fighters on the ground ready to fight ISIS was dubious at best – a doubt that was shared by then Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, amongst others. Simply dropping bombs from the air will not lead to the defeat of ISIS. Nor will it secure peace for the people of Syria and Iraq or bring stability to the wider region. What is needed is a UN agreed plan for a process of reconciliation and reconstruction something that can be quantified, measured and delivered.

All governments must redouble their efforts to secure a comprehensive peace deal for Syria and the wider region including support for the two state solution to bring lasting and meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians. World leaders cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of past Western military interventions in the Middle East and we need renewed commitments to support and aid civilians who are suffering as a result of the war, and real pressure on Saudi Arabia and others who are financing ISIS.

Above all there must be practical support for those currently defending themselves on the ground from ISIS such as the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and a commitment from Turkey to cease its attacks upon the Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. At present any future Western military intervention would simply risk further escalation in Syria and runs the risk of making our own communities at home less safe and less secure and simply plays into the hands of the remnants of ISIS.

Monday, September 4, 2017


One side effect of Brexit and post Brexit Britain is that tax evasion is back to being out of sight and out of sight.  Now it may be a matter of semantics and legality when it comes to the differences between tax evasion from tax avoidance, one is a criminal act and one is permitted under the law.  

It is a matter of public record that our former PM was against aggressive tax avoidance schemes. He was once pretty forthright in stating that tax evasion is illegal, and that people can be prosecuted for that, and people can go to prison – so his relative silence and inaction on tax avoidance may be telling

It is also a matter of public record that the former Con Dem government’s ideologically driven public sector spending seriously cut staffing levels in HM revenue and Customs. The PM interestingly enough was firm enough when it came to rejecting calls for particular individuals to be stripped of public honours for wrongdoing.

Obviously from the perspective of the Westminster elite, if you started stripping individuals of titles and honours for wrong doings, who knows where it might end - even the possibility of former Conservative and former Labour and Lib Dem party donors ending up embarrassed. Previously various Westminster governments of various political hues have been more than a little half-hearted when it comes to clamping down on tax avoidance or fiscal consolidation.

It has certainly gone quiet since TM’s pronouncements back in June 2016 about tax evasion and social justice, mind she has a lot on her plate politically.  The previous PM may have slagged off celebrities, for using a tax avoidance scheme in Jersey. Yet he was very reluctant to deal the tax havens that happen to be UK Crown Dependent territories.  

Successive Labour and Tory governments have regularly turned a blind eye to this problem allowing the UK's tax gap to grow to an eye-watering £34 billion each year.  Total fiscal consolidation over the course of the 2010 – 2015  Parliamentary term amounts to some £120 billion pounds, which gives an indication of the scale of the scandal. 

The last Labour UK Government (back in 2005) managed to merge the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise and then proceeded to cut a nearly a third of jobs in five years (99,000 to 68,000).   The party formerly known as New Labour also happily slashed the budget for tackling the tax gap by nearly 50% (£3.6 bn to £1.9 bn) between 2006-10.

Now most reasonable people accept that there is a real need to deal on a global basis with the problem of off-shore companies and those individuals who are actively engaged in tax avoidance, tax evasion and / or money laundering. It is all a little embarrassing as the UK is at the heart of the problem and consciously chosen not to regulate its own crown dependencies let alone the iffy if not criminal goings on in the City. 

The scale of the on-going off-shore tax avoidance problem can leave you breathless. The Cayman Islands are home to some 12,000 corporations yet have a resident population of 50,000. They were home to around 70% of the planets hedge funds (as of June 2012). The British Virgin Islands with a population of some 22,000 people just happens to be home to some 823,502 registered companies.

General Electric who paid no tax in 2010, made a $14.2 billion dollar profit. Barclay's had 181 subsidiaries (as of June 2012) registered in the Cayman Islands and paid little UK tax on its worldwide profits. News Corp managed to base 152 subsidiaries in tax havens across the planet (according to the US Government) and yet managed to pay no UK corporation tax between 1998 and 1999.

Former US President Obama was 100% right to suggest that the governments of the world should jointly tackle the issue of tax evasion and tax havens. By tackling the tax havens, the tax avoidance and the questionable dealings of the derivative traders, hedge funds and the off balance sheet trading then we might go so way towards dealing with the consequences of the worldwide financial crash.

The UK Government is in up to its neck in it when it comes to tax evasion; it’s heavily involved in aiding and abetting tax evasion worldwide. Yet that nice Mr Cameron and the other 18 millionaires in the cabinet pretty much stalled when it comes to closing the tax loopholes.

The old scandal of HSBC’s Swiss accounts was but the tip of a large iceberg. The British Virgin island (BVI) has incorporated more than a million such offshore entities since it began marketing itself worldwide in the 1980s. Company owners' true identities are never revealed. Even the island's official financial regulators normally have no idea who is behind them.

The British Foreign Office depends on the BVI's company licensing revenue to subsidise this residual outpost of empire, while lawyers and accountants in the City of London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries, claiming that the tax-free offshore companies provide legitimate privacy.

Back in November 2012 a National Audit Office report noted that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was struggling to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes that were costing the UK billions of pounds in lost tax. No doubt much to the embarrassment of the Con Dems, tax evasion and tax evaders and the hunt for their concealed cash is still a big issue in the USA.

In the UK you get the impression that various Westminster governments (and perhaps the Party formerly known as New Labour) hope that the issue of unpaid tax, will quietly go away. The US government has actively pursued tax evaders, both foreign and domestic, yet in the UK, Westminster Governments  has reduced the number of staff in Revenue and Customs from around 100,000 to 65,000 and aims to further reduce the numbers to around 50,000 by 2015.

British Overseas territories, including the Cayman Islands, help to hide around trillions from pounds from the different nation’s tax authorities. Deep in the belly of the beast lies the City, which may explain Cameron’s reluctance to do anything about the problem as some of the city banks are hand in glove with drug dealers, dictators, rogue states and terrorists when it comes to money laundering and perhaps offers comfy lucrative seats on the board to former Westminster politicians.

Plaid Cymru will not compromise on its commitment to tackling tax evasion. Tax evasion, tax avoidance or fiscal consolidation has resulted in vast sums of money being squirrelled away. Plaid believes that taxes should be collected properly and invested in vital public services such as health and education. The Westminster based parties, perhaps seeking future post Westminster employment, may wish to appease the City bankers and their wealthy backers, but Plaid Cymru believes in putting Welsh communities first.