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Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Westminster must continue additional CAB funding

Plaid Cymru’s Penri James has called on the Westminster Government to ensure that continued additional funding for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) network features in the forthcoming Pre-Budget Report.

During last year’s Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor provided an additional £10m to allow the CAB to cope with an increase in cases as a result of the recession. This funding is due to come to an end at the end of March 2010.

324 CAB offices throughout the UK have taken advantage of this additional funding and have thereby been able to increase their opening hours, including the bureau at Cardigan.

Commenting on the need to ensure that additional funding continues to be available for CAB bureaux during the recession, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster candidate for Ceredigion, Penri James, said:

“Unfortunately, the additional funding provided by the Westminster Government for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau network to help them deal with an increased demand due to the recession will come to an end next spring. However, the effects of the current recession are likely to continue much further into the future.

“I therefore hope that every effort will be made to ensure that an important advice service offered by the CAB network to those suffering the results of the recession will continue to be funded by the Westminster government beyond March”.

Minister congratulated on prompt Ceredigion Single Farm Payments

Plaid Cymru’s Penri James has congratulated the Minister for Rural Affairs, Elin Jones AM, after it was announced that over 80 per cent of farmers in Wales will be receiving their Single Farm Payments this week.

Elin Jones AM, Plaid Cymru Agriculture Minister and Assembly Member for Ceredigion, revealed during the Royal Welsh Winter Fair that 1,434 Ceredigion farmers will be receiving payments worth £19,737,898.96 this week.

Commenting on this announcement, Plaid Cymru’s Penri James said:

“The fact that Elin Jones has managed to get 82.5 per cent of Single Farm Payments in Wales out to farmers on the first day the European Commission allows such payments to be made demonstrates the Plaid Minister’s determination to supporting the local agriculture industry.

“The winter months are certainly the most expensive months for farmers and having a positive cash flow by having their Single Farm Payments promptly in the bank will go a long way towards reducing unnecessary interest charges and allow the money to be used for farming and not to pay the bankers”.

Concerns over Probation Service sentence evasion

Plaid Cymru’s Penri James has expressed concern that criminals in Ceredigion might be getting away with not serving their community service orders.

Data obtained by the Plaid Cymru Westminster candidate under the Freedom of Information Act shows that there were 276 Community Payback or Community Service Orders issued in Ceredigion between 2006 and 2009. However, only three breaches of these orders were recorded during the same period.

This is substantially lower than the data for neighbouring counties. During the same period, 950 orders were issued in Carmarthenshire, 468 in Pembrokeshire and 615 in Powys. These counties experienced 285, 58 and 254 breaches respectively.

Plaid Cymru’s Penri James said:

“I find it difficult to believe that there were only three breaches to Community Service Orders recorded in Ceredigion during the last three years. Evidence from neighbouring counties suggests that this number should be much larger.

“These figures indicate that either we have very well behaved criminals in Ceredigion or that they are getting away with not doing their sentences and that this evasion is not being recorded”.

These figures come as the UK Government is looking to cut £24m from the Probation Service’s budget.

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader and MP for Meirionydd Nant Conwy, Elfyn Llwyd, secured a debate on the matter in Parliament.

Penri James further commented:

“The announced cuts to the Probation Service’s budget will inevitably make the situation in Ceredigion even worse. The courts are being encouraged to put in place structured and supervised community penalties, but what use is this if there isn’t enough staff to supervise these orders?

“These Community Service Orders are here for a reason – to ensure that offenders repay society for the distress that they have caused. At the moment, these penalties do not appear to be working in Ceredigion and I fear that budget cuts could make the situation much worse”.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Lib Dems run with the hare and the hounds

There is uproar in New Quay about parking charges at the Ceredigion County Council owned car park next to the medical centre, and rightly so. During the last year the Welsh Assembly Government, of which Plaid Cymru is part, has abolished car parking charges at hospitals. It is the right thing to do.
Whilst I am totally supportive of the petition for free parking to those visiting the medical centre in New Quay, it is rather ironic that it has been sent to Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams. The decision to include parking fees in the annual County Council budget was supported by Liberal Democrat Councillors and implemented by the Council Cabinet on which sits three Liberal Democrat Councillors. They have had several opportunities to stop this punitive health tax but have refused to do so.

It is only right to point out that the MP cannot run with both the hare and the hounds and must at some stage accept a collective responsibility for the actions of his party.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Liberal Democrat Farming press releases - pinch them from the NFU!

If you don't have anything to say about agriculture then get it from somebody else. This press release by Mark Williams MP is amazing in its barefaced cheek, now he didn't meet Wynfford James but gives the impression he did, didn't do any background research but gives the impression he did, and didn't actually do anything but gives the impression he did.
MP shocked by milk sales figures
11:57am Wednesday 25th November 2009

Ceredigion’s Welsh Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams has expressed his concern after new figures showed supplies of Welsh Milk sold to the public sector have dropped by 22%.

At a meeting with NFU Cymru’s Milk Board, Wynfford James, Head of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Food, Fisheries and Market Development Department, explained that the total spent on food and drink by the public sector in 2007 was £66.49million.

Mr James went on to explain that his department has identified that there are substantial opportunities for producers of Welsh fruit and vegetables to supply to the public sector but that there had also been a significant drop in fresh Welsh milk supplies - down by 22% since 2005.

Commenting, Mark Williams said:
“Public procurement is an important tool in ensuring that local producers are supported, so it is a real concern to see a drop in the amount of Welsh milk being purchased by the public sector.

“This issue has been widely publicised, and all parts of the public sector should be aware of the importance of public procurement, so it is extremely disappointing that we have gone backwards.

“The Welsh Assembly Government must take heed of these figures, and ensure that Welsh milk is supported by the public sector.”

The original NFU press release is here, and is copied below.

Supplies of Welsh milk sold to the public sector have dropped by 22% according to latest research figures which Mansel Raymond, NFU Cymru’s Milk Board Chairman, has described as ‘alarming’.

Wynfford James, Head of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Food, Fisheries and Market Development Department, explained to NFU Cymru’s Milk Board members that the total spent on food and drink by the public sector in 2007 was £66.49million.
Welsh food and drink producers from a supply perspective could provide £30.3million of that total spend, but, at the moment Welsh producers are only able to access £14.7million of that public sector market place.

Mr James went on to explain that his department has identified that there are substantial opportunities for producers of Welsh fruit and vegetables to supply to the public sector but that there had also been a significant drop in fresh Welsh milk supplies - down by 22% since 2005. Public sector procurement policies and structures are to blame in the main with many such bodies now favouring a ‘consortium’ approach which makes it difficult for smaller, Welsh based suppliers to bid for and win these contracts.

In response to the tracking studies completed by the Welsh Assembly Government, Mansel Raymond said, “I am very alarmed by the drop in Welsh milk purchased by the public sector. The Welsh dairy industry is in decline and therefore it is the sector
that needs the most support at the moment. Our industry is going through real tough times and whilst public procurement contracts are a small part in a much bigger picture every little helps so it is incumbent on the Assembly Government and other public bodies to do much better.”

John Lougher, a milk producer from Glamorgan, suggested that the biggest drop in Welsh milk supplied was from Local Authorities. The position would be compounded further with the demise of Assembly Government funded School Milk Facilitators. These people were key in helping schools trawl through the administrative nightmare that comes hand in hand with the European free school milk scheme. Mr Lougher said, “Milk is a healthy drink and needs to be introduced at an early age. Sadly, I know there are a lot of schools in Glamorgan that are not getting any milk at the moment, let alone Welsh milk. These Facilitators are key in getting schools to
take up the scheme to the benefit of their pupils.”

Members of the NFU Cymru Milk Board assured Wynfford James that they would be keeping in regular contact with his department and a firm eye on future tracking studies to ensure that the position was much improved in terms of the amount of Welsh milk and indeed Welsh food and drink in general that was purchased by the public sector.

The cheap shot at the Welsh Assembly Government ignores the fact that local authorities are also major procurors of Welsh milk. What I would like to know is how much milk did Ceredigion County Council buy during the same period? Will he make a statement?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ceredigion 14-19 Learning Partnership

Ceredigion Cabinet has started the ball rolling with secondary school reorganisation with a meeting of School Governors in Aberaeron on Monday night to discuss the 'Ceredigion 14-19 Learning Partnership Terms of Reference and Governance Arrangements'. A grand title enough to frighten the life out of any non legal mind but its all about how secondary schools, Coleg Ceredigion and vocational trainers can work with each other under a strategic banner managed by Ceredigion Education Department. Most is driven by WAG and the national education agenda.
In Ceredigion its the Lib Dems who are in charge of the education portfolio so I came prepared not to expect a lot. After the usual rambling introduction we were treated to a 20 minute disection by the Director of Education of this Cambrian News article. Maybe he had been reading a bit of George Monbiot and wanted to join in the fun but to start a night to discuss the future of secondary education listing, in his opinion, the inaccuracies and misinterpretations of the Cambrian News was brave and unusual. He insisted we were there to discuss options and no solutions were to be foisted on anybody. Several other officers provided additional descriptions of the proposals which I can summise that a strategic board will be created with guidance power on policy for school governing bodies but that the ultimate decision will be taken locally by governing bodies themselves. Then came the stick, if governing bodies failed to comply with the wishes of the strategic board then the big brother Welsh Assembly will step in. Ceredigion will become another Anglesey or Denbigh.
This is fundementally the wrong approach. Anglesey and Denbigh are totally different scenario's, one arises from poor political leadership and the other from poor officer leadership. You cannot build a sustainable consensus in favour of a policy if your over-riding argument is one of threat if the right decision isn't taken.
These are my other concerns:-
  1. The strategic pyramid is unclear and it appears that there is a chain of pyramids in place. Is it the Cabinet's policy that over-rides all others? WAG policy? or the local policy of individual governing bodies?
  2. There is no compulsion for governing bodies to submit to the will of the strategic board and the governing bodies hold all financial powers. Strategic direction will not work without finance so why create such a powerless structure unless finance will no longer be controlled by governing bodies. One to watch.
  3. There is no direct line of accountability in the structures proposed.
  4. There is no direction on how disputes, and there will be many, will be resolved.
  5. There is no clear statement why the structures are being put in place and what they aim to achieve.

One of my favourite quotes is by Disraeli " a progressive country change is constant..." and even though Ceredigion has historically had some of the best secondary education results in Wales, we cannot stand still and systems, structures and education have to evolve. I am yet to be convinced that collating power in a single county based structure is the right way, I do think that successful and capable governing bodies play a constructive role in society. Speaking as a parent, governor and former pupil, these are developments we must watch.