Saturday, December 31, 2011

That was the year that was

Well just before I go get myself poshed up a bit to go join friends to celebrate the New Year I thought I would take a few minutes just to say all the best for 2012 to anyone who may take a passing interest in my ramblings.

2011 has not been the best of years all in all.  Personally there have been a few up and downs along the way, as is always the case.  I finish the year ever more frustrated that I cannot seem to get rid of my house and move on. But things could be worse.

Politically it has been one hell of a year.  We started out with such high hopes of building on the great work we had done in Pontypridd up to and including the General Election, when despite all the odds against us we outperformed many other constituencies in Wales with a lot less in the way of resources and no outside help.

We fought against the Labour party’s dirty tricks, the allegations that a filthy piece of Labour slime by the name of Allen Bevan made against Mike that did not get anywhere near the same publicity when they were dropped after the election.  Agent and candidate became embroiled in some vicious battles – against each other as well as the opposition – as the pressure rose.  But we kept it together.

The crash that came on the night of the count was absolutely heartbreaking.  Yes, we maintained our second place when most of the Party’s target seats didn’t, and despite the crowing of the evil minded Labour lot on the night we kept our dignity and held our heads high.

The news across Wales started pouring in and as a Party nationally we sighed with relief when the final results were rounded up and we had a group of five AMs. Some of us had jobs reliant on this too.

For some of us there was no time to recover – as a member of both Party and Assembly staff the work started again straight away, and on the Saturday I was back in work.

We then fell into a horrendous political limbo as the Aled Roberts / John Dixon debacle took over.  Every one of us on the team wondered what we could  / should have done to prevent it. But there is a key word there – team.  We are a team and work together very well, and it is that teamwork that carries us through.

But we survived, and we keep battling at RCT and Wales wide level, because that is what we do, because it is what we believe in.

Yet fate still had another cruel blow to hand out to us – IT WASN’T A RED CARD OFFENCE REF!!!

Happy New Year all

Fix bayonets and charge

Well I thought this was supposed to be the season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men and so on.  Seems the love has failed to reach the upper echelons of Welsh politics in the past few days.
First we had Conservative Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan launching what the press described as a ‘blistering attack’ on Carwyn Jones, accusing him of undermining the union and seeking to run a separate foreign policy.  A ‘Welsh Labour spokesman’ i.e. the duty press officer came back with all guns blazing
 “Cheryl Gillan’s Conservative Home article is a textbook example of Tory political double-think, with deceitful inference built upon factual inaccuracy, until the whole thing collapses in on itself under the weight of contrived soundbite. While the anti-European, cuts obsessed readers of Conservative Home might approve, a wider audience will see it for what it is – a desperate yelp for attention from an impotent Secretary of State who knows the horrors her UK Government are unleashing on the people of Wales.”

Nice one to be fair, obviously a take no prisoners attitude there..

Then we had Plaid’s Dafydd Elis Thomas wading in with an attack on Cheryl Gillan over her attack on Carwyn Jones.

Lord Elis Thomas said: “Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan is inhabiting a fantasy world if she thinks First Minister Carwyn Jones in strengthening relations with other European nations and regions is pursing ‘his own foreign policy’It’s all good fun isn’t it? Although I am not sure how thrilled Carwyn will be at receiving support from the former PO.
Of course here in RCT we are used to politics being of a more cut and thrust nature.  RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats have long since adopted a ’fix bayonets and charge’ approach in the way we operate.  Well when you are dealing with a Labour party who think they have the divine right to rule and exhibit an arrogance that is breathtaking it is the only way to proceed. 
A Labour party who like to get their own way at any cost, whose dirty tricks include a long string of complaints to the Ombudsman, none of which have been upheld, and of course the ‘harassment’ charge which one of their members levelled at Mike prior to the Assembly election.

It does not always help the overall democratic process of course, to have politicians battling it out in public to such an extent, but the alternative is to sit back and take it – and that is something some of us just can’t do.
Besides which politics needs to be more passionate, it needs to bring out an emotional response in people, it needs to make them care enough to get off their backsides and vote.  There is a long history of table thumping bar room politics in the Valleys and I for one hope it continues.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Hypocritical Parasites??

My mate Michael, or Cllr Powell if you prefer, has got the local Labour party all hot under the collar again.  What has he done this time?  Well he expressed the opinion that they are all a bunch of “hypocritical parasites” -  I believe that was the term he used.  
Now I am amongst the first to tell him when I think he is in the wrong but in this instance it is hard to see how he could have been mistaken.  The evidence presented constantly on all fronts seems to suggest very strongly that he has indeed hit the nail right on the head.

The online Oxford dictionary defines a parasite as follows:
"an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense."  OR  " a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return:"

In the interests of balance the Cambridge dictionary states:
" an animal or plant that lives on or in another animal or plant of a different type and feeds from it"  OR  "a person who is lazy and lives by other people working, giving them money, etc"
Make the comparisons yourself – this may help
Again I turn to the Oxford online for the definition of hypocritical
“behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case”
"saying that you have particular moral beliefs but behaving in a way that shows these are not sincere."

You can see where I am going with this right?  It is a word which often crops up in relation to the Labour party  in RCT – such as here and here
And here is a perfect example of the hypocritical parasites that Russell exemplifies so well.  Two chauffeur driven cars out for hours on a Sunday to take the leader and his wife and the Mayor to a Community Council jolly.
But in terms of real hypocrisy three jobs Russell Roberts column in this week’s Ponty Observer is a prime contender for the title of hypocritical claptrap of the year.
He constantly changes his position in order to try and ensure no mud ever sticks to his neatly pressed suit.  Indeed next time Dr Who is filming in the area he could top up his meagre wages with a role as one of those shape shifters who appear as different things to different people.
He starts by hailing the great Edwina Hart along with Oily Smith and Slick Antoniw for bringing new jobs to Treforest (very welcome new jobs I must admit) but then goes on to blame the coalition Westminster Government for rising unemployment.
He lays the blame at our door for the ‘difficult decisions; he has had to take to protect jobs and front line services, but not so long ago he was trying to persuade workers that it wasn’t his Cabinet who cut the terms and conditions, but the Chief Exec as they had delegated the decision.
He blames the opposition for doing nothing but criticising and not coming up with any positive ides.  Yet every single motion that Mike and his group have brought to Council has been dismissed out of hand by Labour, not matter what it is.  They failed to vote in favour of a DPPO to ban alcohol consumption on the streets of Pontypridd when Mike suggested it, only to come back some time later announcing their decision to introduce a DPPO across RCT.
Disabled Parking bays were introduced some time after both Labour and Plaid voted against one of our motions to bring them in.
Three years ago the WLD group put forward a motion to bring empty homes back into use – yes you’ve guessed it, Labour voted against it and then later drought it back as their own idea. 
You get the general drift I'm sure.
Yep, I really do think that on this occasion Mike has got it spot on.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Youth engagement all for show?

At the Council AGM this year the Labour lot made a big fuss over their decision to create posts for a Youth mayor and Deputy Mayor “as part of the Council’s work to engage with young people and involve them in the democratic process.”
Great idea, we’re all for engaging with people of all ages – it’s called equality don’t you know.
But this from a bunch of hypocrites who really haven’t got the faintest idea of how that works in practice.  Who, for instance, dismissed the protest by Rhydfelen students against the school name change because, in the words of one of their Cabinet Members at the time “you’re not old enough to have an opinion.”
As my colleague Mike Powell pointed out at the time, the appointments should not be a matter of paying lip service or ticking a box, but should lead to proper engagement.
So just what has happened since?
The only mention of them on the RCT Council site is of their appointment.  Likewise on the WICID site.  A Google search brings up only the same report – that they were appointed last May.
A search of Wales Online reports that the Youth Mayor presented certificates to schoolchildren in July.  There is no mention of his Deputy.
Yet another bit of show from RCT Labour?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Not what Russell wanted for Xmas

I somehow missed this story on the BBC website – which is a report on the decision of the Remuneration Panel in relation to Councillors’ allowances.
I have mentioned previously – here and here – the disgraceful greed exhibited by Labour leader Russell Roberts and his motley crew in RCT.  It now seems that there will be an enforced pay cut for these parasites.
The Remuneration Panel report which can be found here disappointingly bows to pressure and allows an increase in the number of senior salaries which can be paid, thus allowing Labour to keep the golden handcuffs system as they currently have it.
The report again stresses that
The remuneration of Council Leaders and Executive Member (Band 1 and 2 Senior Salaries) is based on the Panel’s assumption that these roles are full-time.

A member in receipt of a Band 1 or Band 2 Senior Salary cannot receive a
salary from any National Park authority or fire and rescue authority for
which s/he has been nominated.
The report specifically says that

An authority must not pay more than one Senior Salary to a member. Also that no-one in receipt of a senior salary (Leader, Cabinet Member, and Committee Chair) should receive payment form a National Park Authority or Fire Authority.

There is no specific mention of salaries from other bodies – such as the Police Authority which Russell chairs, or the Health Board for which he also receives a salary.

So Russell may have a get out clause that enables him to get away with just a cut of a few meagre thousand a year rather than the £40K + that he should lose if the recommendation of being a FULL TIME LEADER be taken on board.

Of course this will be a moot point should Russell not be leader after May  ;-)

Education Minister Leighton Andrews admits to failures

 “Education Minister Leighton Andrews has admitted the Welsh Government took its “eye off the ball” in relation to school standards following the devolution of powers to Wales.
In an interview with WalesOnline, Mr Andrews conceded the Welsh Labour-led administration had not done enough when it came to accountability.”

And there was me thinking his head was so far up his you know what that he couldn’t see what has been blatantly obvious to everyone else for ages.
Now if only he could show the same foresight in coming up with some useful solutions for a change.
In the meantime, just don’t mention coco pops.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Will someone get Leighton a calculator for Xmas please.


Education Minister Leighton Andrews has admitted to WalesOnline what we have known all along, that

“The Welsh Government’s radical tuition fee policy requires an element of guesswork and nobody really knows how much it will cost.”

Wow!  Really should have held the front page for that one. 

‘The Rhondda AM said calculations were “really difficult” to make and he is certain Welsh Labour’s tuition fee forecasts will be wrong.’

Perhaps it’s about time that the Labour party stopped using the back of a brown envelope and a well chewed pencil to make their budget calculations.  Because, Leighton, dealing with the budget for a whole country is ‘really difficult’  - you may have to take your shoes and socks off to aid your counting.


On a more serious note, this has always been the problem with the policy in Wales.  Despite what the press would like people to believe, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are still in favour of abolishing tuition fees, but it has to be a policy based on practicalities.  It needs to be properly costed and the funding stream identified.  How can you do that if you have no idea what the costs will be?

Last month Leighton claimed it would cost the Welsh Government £173m a year to subsidise Welsh students studying at UK Universities.  The affordability of the current policy is heavily reliant on English students coming to study in Wales and bringing in money.   In the interview the Minister is, as usual, dismissive of anything that doesn’t fit in with what he is determined to implement, such as data from UCAS which shows a sharp drop in the number of students from England applying to study here.

Apparently tomorrow WalesOnline will carry a further excerpt from the interview on the subject of school standards.  I can hardly contain my excitement.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Whose side are the unions on?

As news comes that negotiations over public sector pensions edge closer to agreement  BBC political editor Nick Robinson asks a very pertinent question – what did the strikes actually achieve?
The Treasury has given no more money since the strikes. However the offer made before - on 22nd November - was, I'm told, rather more generous than many realised - not least those who went out on strike.”
What?  Could it be that union leaders bent the truth a little?  Could they have exaggerated the situation just a touch?  Maybe to flex their muscles a bit, stop them becoming atrophied.  Or just to remind the public at large (most of whom do not belong to unions let alone public service unions) that they exist?
Or could it have been – perish the thought – a political move by union leaders who rely on Labour as much as Labour rely on them?
Surely in this season of goodwill it would be churlish to entertain such thoughts.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just what is going on with Tonyrefail policing then Russell?

I have to admit to being a bit confused – you know that Russell Roberts fella, the Council leader in RCT who is also the Chair of the South Wales Police Authority?  Well some of the things he says just don’t add up.
I mean there was all the confusion over who authorised the changes in terms and conditions for employees earning less than £42,000 – he tried to say it was all down to the Chief executive.  Yet at the same time it seems the Cabinet are the ones in charge whenever there is good news to impart.
Then there was the lovely bit of spin about there being no compulsory redundancies in RCT when what they were doing instead was giving people a not so gentle push with enhanced deals if they shut up and signed on the dotted line.  It’s only tax payers’ money they are giving away after all.
But no, it is none of that which is currently puzzling me.  My confusion this time is over the status of Tonyrefail Police station.

South Wales Police community police site Our Bobby.com states
Northern Division has four main stations - one in each area.  Main Stations are open to the public between 8am and 8pm Sunday-Thursday. Friday and Saturday is 10am-10pm
Merthyr Tydfil Police Station - Swan Street, Merthyr CF47 8ES
Ton Pentre Police Station, Maindy Road, Ton Pentre  CF41 7HA
Aberdare Police Station, Cross Street, Aberdare CF44 7EG
Pontypridd Police Station, Berw Road, Pontypridd CF37 2TR

Supplementary Stations with Limited Reception Cover Between 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday    -    Porth Police Station; Talbot Green Police Station

There are a further number of stations geographically placed throughout the area where officers patrol from. They have no counter facilities and officers may not be present if they are on patrol.
Treharris Police Station 1:30pm-4:30pm (Merthyr area) Monday-Friday

Mountain Ash Police Station; Hirwaun Police Station;  Tonyrefail Police Station;
Ferndale Police Station; Rhydyfelin; Church Village

Tonyrefail east: The Coedely, Collena and Tylcha wards of the Community of Tonyrefail. The village of Tonyrefail is sited just to the south of the Rhondda valleys on the A4119.
Your nearest Police Station is: Porth Police Station, Porth Street, Porth CF39 9SB which is open Monday-Friday 9am -1pm, 1.45pm-5pm.

So how exactly does this fit with this piece of fiction from the Tonyrefail Labour website?

Tonyrefail West Councillor, Eudine Hanagan said:
“Following our representations I am pleased that Tonyrefail has received assurances that our Police Station is not affected,.”
Umm?   Is that because it had already closed then?
The ‘news’ article (or short story whichever you prefer top view it as) states that
“Having Cllr Roberts as a member of the Police Authority has allowed us to have direct access into the decision making process and protect our local Police Station.”
Perhaps Russell had better pay more attention at Police Authority meetings. Or perhaps his influence isn’t as great as he thinks it is?
As I have said previously he was surely on dicey ground trying to use his position for ward advantage anyway?

Pontypridd is left behind again - £1.9m for Merthyr Park regeneration

Congratulations are due to Merthyr for obtaining £1.9m for the upgrading of Cyfartha Park via the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Now Local Government Minister Carl Sergeant is very keen on Councils working together - perhaps Merthyr would care to share a few ideas with RCT.  They have been talking about the restoration of the lido in Ynysangharad War Memorial Park for years, but that is about all they have done is talk about it.
Not that RCT Council underestimate the importance of the Park of course. Indeed the Council has an Ynysangharad Park Cabinet sub group.  It rarely meets.  It last met in July of this year when it discussed the new war memorial.
Before that it met in March 2010 – when the only item on the agenda was again the new war memorial.
The restoration of the Lido, the cornerstne of plans for the Park, was last discussed in December 2009, Two years ago.  And still we wait.
“The restoration of Ynysangharad Park would generate substantial benefits for Rhondda Cynon Taf; including creating a prestigious facility that would be considered a regional attraction, and a key contributor and potential catalyst for regeneration in Pontypridd Town Centre.”
Not my words – this is taken from a report to RCT Cabinet in June 2007.  The report asked for approval of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid.
The report was written by, amongst others, the then Director of Strategic Policy & Continuous Improvement, a man by the name of Chris Bradshaw.  The very same Chris Bradshaw who was this year appointed Director of education.

Let’s hope when we look back in four years time Mr Bradshaw’s delivery record on education is a lot better than it was in this instance.  A bit of continuous improvement would be very welcome there.

Leighton's not making many friends

How many Christmas cards do you think Leighton Andrews will be getting this year?

The Labour Education Minister seems to be upsetting just about everyone these days.  Personally I have always found him to be a smug arrogant little man, and he seems determined to prove me right.
Fresh from the triumphant introduction of the school banding system he introduced which nobody seems to approve of except him, he has been busy this week upsetting the Higher Education sector yet again.
In what Media Wales described as a ‘wide ranging speech’ to the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education Conference in Cardiff he “also attacked “parochial small-mindedness” in the higher education sector – giving the strongest hint yet that the merged South East Wales University will happen.”
Why?  Because Leighton says so of course.
Now I don’t pretend to have any expertise in this matter.  There may indeed be convincing reasons why moves to merge certain Universities would make long term sense, but as usual the Minister does not seem to be interested in discussion or real consultation on the matter. His attitude to most things seems to be ‘it’s right because I said so.’
His attitude is reflected in the way in which he chooses to announce changes.  The Assembly is now in recess, so what better time for him to bring forward a whole raft of announcements when there is no chance of him being scrutinized in the Chamber.
He took the opportunity during this speech to announce the creation of a National body to govern and fund education in Wales. And you know what, out of the goodness of his little heart, he is prepared to actually Chair it himself.  How lucky are we to have such a man in charge of our education system?
We also read in the press yesterday that he is to set up a new regulatory body.  Now there are concerns in many quarters about the effectiveness of the General teaching Council for Wales and it is no doubt overdue an overhaul, but yet again this has come out of nowhere during recess.
What’s the problem Leighton?  Afraid of a few questions?  Can’t take the criticism?  Or does it just boost your feeling of self importance making these pronouncements just because you can?


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Edwina needs to get her act together

Here we go again. 
Politicians say they fear minor injury units at two Pembrokeshire hospitals set to temporarily close after Christmas will never reopen again.
Health services managers say nurses at Tenby and South Pembrokeshire hospitals are needed to keep the accident and emergency unit at Withybush running.” (full story here)
This comes just a few weeks after the closure of the MIU at Ysbyty Cwm Rhondda for the exact same reason - to keep A&E at the Royal Glamorgan going.
There are worries over the Unit at Barry, and Chepstow hospital lost its Minor Injuries Unit last year, although the reason given in that case was lack of patents!
It really is an absolute disgrace that people in Wales are getting a second rate health service because of the inadequacies of the Labour Welsh Government. 
And that is what lies behind this.  Despite what the Tories want people to think this is not about money or the lack of it – it is about poor political judgement and bad management of a vital service.
Edwina needs to get her act together

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peter Black - the voice of reason on the European crisis?

I don’t get the whole Europe fuss – seriously, all this talk of Britain being left isolated and coalition break ups, I don’t understand it.
Now I don’t consider myself a stupid person (quiet at the back there please) but all this talk about fiscal unions and Keynesian economics go over my head.  Words I love, figures leave me cold.  Now I understand this is probably a major flaw in my genetic make up, but we can’t all be good at everything.
I can’t get excited by Europe – it ranks along with STV as one of those things Lib Dems are supposed to get up all het up about, but it doesn’t do it for me.   I have no particular anti European feelings, but it is not something I spend much time thinking about.  It is one of the subjects that enables us as a party to tear ourselves apart - but to what end?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing the importance of the European Union, but neither is it the answer to all our problems. 
Peter Black as he so often does takes a very sensible, balanced view of the situation.  It is not the end of the world, and it need not be the end of the coalition either.  Why should it be?  Unless we are to allow those in both our own and the Tory party who have always had doubts to build up a good enough head of steam to change the minds of the majority of members who still think the coalition was our only choice and that we were right to sign up to it – which is still my view.
As Peter says
Surely, even the most ardent Europhile must recognise that it is not in Britain's best interests to sign up to a treaty that would undermine local budgeting decisions and which would prevent us from taking our own decisions on the way we manage our economy.”
Many people in this area are sick and tired of what they see as too much interference from the EU in the way we run our affairs. Many VOTERS. They don’t understand it, and they don’t like it.  One of the things that annoys me is that many of those who sit around the bar and rage against the EU are also Labour voters – I wonder how many of them will think Cameron was right? I suspect that is too great a leap for their minds to make, but when they see our MPs leaping up and down in indignation because he didn’t give in – that they will remember.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A fine bit of Labour spin

Good news for schools in RCT with a potential £160m investment programme via the 21st century Schools scheme.  Good news which RCT Council of course want to announce to the world.
It is an excellent example of how to put some good political spin on a tale – but then you would expect little else surely when the Head of Public Relations and Strategy is the son of the Cabinet member for Education.  After all if your own son can’t paint you in a good light then who can?  (Especially when he is being paid so handsomely to promote the Labour party the Council.
There is no mention of the delays to the scheme, or that it will not kick in just yet.  The programme, whilst well intentioned, was like many Labour Government schemes not fully financed.  They of course blamed the Westminster cuts - what else?
The amount of money available has been scaled back considerably, and the program will not now kick in until 2014 instead of 2012.
Conveniently this is overlooked by RCT’s excellent propaganda PR department.
Oddly enough they also overlooked the £3million pupil premium / pupil deprivation grant money.  Not a whisper of it on the website.  Maybe they weren’t able to work out a way of mentioning it without also giving the Welsh Liberal Democrats some credit for it, and that would really stick in the craw of the Labour Councillors.
Anyway, back to the good news – the £160m investment.  This is of course dependant on the Council putting together a sound business case for each proposal within the overall bundle. 
Now hopefully they will do just that, as there are some very good projects there which will provide enhanced facilities for a number of schools.  However the recently appointed Director has spent much of his time over the past two years putting together a crackpot plan to close all secondary schools and open three tertiary colleges which has met with the approval of nobody outside of the Labour Cabinet.  Maybe some of that time, energy and effort if put into other schemes would have been much more productive,

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The moo-ving tale of cows on the line

Trains stopped mooving on the line between Newport and Cardiff today when it was re-veal-ed that around 5 dozen cattle had wandherd onto the track.
Passengers were advised that unless they had thick Jerseys on they should stay on the train as the temperature had dropped dramatically and it was Fresian outside.
Talk of taking passengers stranded 5 miles from Cardiff back to Newport were dismissed as bull.  Most passengers annoyed at the delay said they had no beef with Arriva trains and said the driver deserved a pat on the back.  One or two said the situation was udderly ridiculous – one businessman was particularly annoyed at missing a high steaks meeting in the Bay