Saturday 27 February 2016

After the storms: lots of mess and a chance for a political deep clean?

Siân Caiach writes: ;-

After the winter storms its time to take stock and clean up. 
They tell us that “extreme weather events” will be more common in future and many of us here have certainly experienced severe weather lately. A couple of days ago I saw a friend who despite not living on a flood plain has had the lower floor of her house devastated. She lives on the side of a hill. A new estate has been built above her and the water run-off has increased .It’s been traditional in Llanelli to put road and other land drains into the sewers.  After heavy rain she returned home to find her house flooded with sewerage. A manhole cover at the back of her house was displaced by a fountain of effluent which  filled the ground floor, suddenly and without warning.

Those of you who have experienced domestic flooding know the distress and disruption it causes, My friend has lost most of her furniture, all her floor coverings, her washing machine and  kitchen units and other domestic appliances.

With no idea of the oncoming disaster, she could not move valuables and sentimental objects out of harm’s way. She is insured but there is uncertainty as to how much her insurance will cost in the future. Luckily her parents live nearby and there is somewhere for her and her children to stay and keep an eye on the progress of the cleaning, drying and repair of her home.

In the last few years flooding has been the fate of thousands of residents in Wales. It doesn’t always make the news. The weather is changing and we need to take action in our communities to protect ourselves from flooding, storm damage and the damage to our infra structure – roads, electricity and phone lines etc. The bills to utility companies and local authorities as well as ordinary folk are piling up. On top of this more rain means more sewage spills here as our local sewage treatment plants have not coped with the volumes coming out of our toilets since the last century

But what is the Assembly Government doing to address the climate threat?  We can’t stop the bad weather but there is a lot we can do to protect our citizens. My friend is unlucky because Welsh water know that the sewage backs up in Llanelli and is building a better local pumping system which will be able to pump sewage away faster. This might have prevented the man hole covers on the sewers “blowing”. However, with the increase of building in the area much of the new pumping stations efforts may instead be to pump the excess into the Loughor estuary not the local treatment plant. The

Why has the Assembly Government not only ignored but encouraged our local drainage problems? In fact Welsh Water dumps untreated sewage into our estuary with the explicit consent of Natural Resources Wales, an arm of government directed by our environment minister. Some dubious research has failed to show exactly why the local cockles, sand eels and lug worms have been decimated so the increasing volumes of raw sewage have been dismissed as coincidental to the loss of Wales' only "sustainable" fishery. My feeling is we should clean up the water first and then see if the cockles like it better, rather than using bad science and incomplete and historic data to convince us that sewage is harmless to animals stuck in the sand and defenseless against oxygen depletion.

As the European Union referendum is announced I ask the question are we fit to be in charge of our environmental safety. EU membership has allowed our own government here to turn a blind eye to sewage not being treated and a merry dance is going on in the European Court, a case which is still not settled as the UK government, WAG and Welsh Water argue that they will be good and spill less sewage in future even though the EU rules are such that all sewage has to be treated. The case was referred to the EU Commission 8 years ago not by our government, councils or environment agency but by ordinary Llanelli residents in Stradey, where sewage flooding was not uncommon, joined later by cockle pickers when their livlihood disappeared.. If this had not happened the EU would be totally ignorant of our sewage problem. A remote government is a poor policeman if the local government  deliberately hides bad news!

If the Welsh Government was completely responsible to us for preventing pollution and keeping us safe would it be better at it? The truth is the people concerned would at least be close enough to visit and have to take the blame. In the EU they can theoretically to be brought to book by complaining to a slow and inefficient system in Europe. Some have said that our government’s actions in trying to hide the sewage pollution shows that only the EU can be trusted to ensure our sewage is all treated. Personally I would prefer a government here in Wales which actually cared about the environment, the changing climate and was committed to making this country better. If we haven’t had a competent Welsh government yet, in a democracy surely, we could and should have changed it.

Up until now we have apparently been happy in Wales to tolerate bad planning, poor infrastructure and open encouragement of pollution of our environment .There is little sign that the floods and destruction of the winter storms have made any difference in political attitudes despite the havoc and destruction.  If there is a “Brexit” then perhaps we will take more care to select Assembly Members who will actually govern? The buck will stop here. Up to the present , whoever you voted for last time has clearly not managed to get a grip! Don’t expect to do the same thing and get a different result!
Siân Caiach 

One of Llanelli's famous flood plain developments.Gutless Environments Minister
Jane Davidson dropped her objections to building on a C2 flood plain when the
developers, Taylor Wimpey, threatened a multi million law suit against WAG. 

Siân Caiach, is a People First /Gwerin Gyntaf  County Councillor, Assembly Candidate on the Mid and West Regional List and Constituency Candidate for Llanelli

Wednesday 17 February 2016

How about a Voice in our own Health Care?

Llanelli is the largest town in Dyfed. The population of town proper and  suburbs is over 80,000. With nearby towns Burry Port, Kidwelly and a host of small villages the Llanelli area probably contains well over half of the population of Carmathenshire. Why has its Hospital been shrinking for so long and its health services declined? 

I started working in Prince Philip Hospital in 1994 and was forced to leave in 2005. By that time the District General Hospital had already two mergers which had the character of hostile takeovers. I was only one of a number of consultants "let go" over that period. Our management's reaction to senior doctors who wanted to keep services in Llanelli was generally to shoot the messengers. The political power was always in Carmarthen where West Wales General Hospital originally had the largest collection of managerial staff and packed the executive boards after every merger. Now my old hospital, like others in Dyfed crowded out by the "Carmarthen Effect," may end up as just a ghost of its original function with local patients not getting the hospital care they need close to home.

Where is democracy in this system? Although the Welsh Government approves senior managerial appointments, its lack of directional planning means that the new leaders are not necessarily all singing from the same hymn sheet. To be honest, I strongly suspect that neither Government nor management actually have a hymn sheet. I even doubt the Welsh Government Health Minister has a full audit of what services and staff are at each location and how the service is performing. We cannot continue a system where decisions are seemingly random in each Health board area with different initiatives and policies followed in different ways with differing results!

In Scotland a pilot project in 2010 to elect two health boards was not successful enough in changing the boards and the plans to roll out the direct elections across Scotland were abandoned. The problems were low turnout and the election of the usual suspects which led to the same type of elderly white middle class male dominance that the non elected boards had previously.  Scotland also trialled a different recruitment system with much wider advertisement of the non executive board posts and directly advertising to healthcare user groups, minorities and Community Councillors as well as general local radio adverts etc., to cast the net wide. This was very successful in producing diversity and a more representative local community input and was the mode chosen for the future. It was also a lot cheaper than elections.
The former entrance to Prince Philip Accident and Emergency Department
 is now taped off with the same tape Police use at accident sites

The full details can be found at:

For the pub quiz aficionados please note that the first time in the UK that 16 and 17 year-olds voted was in the 2010 Scottish Health board elections.

In both cases the number of voting staff executive directors was reduced. The non-voting directors still attended board meetings and the new non-executive directors had the numbers to challenge executive decisions.

Its very nice to see a progressive Government running pilot projects to decide how to democratise the control of healthcare. We might not have had the many futile bus trips to lobby the Assembly if our Health Boards had been more representative of the people they served. As it is we in Wales have what looks like the double whammy of no political control at all from either our Welsh government or local people as our Health Boards make changes without consulting anyone other than themselves. 

As a member of People First/Gwerin Gyntaf and our main aim is to bring the voice of ordinary people into Welsh Government and all aspects of the services the welsh state provides.

Today I visited the former entrance to Prince Philip Accident and Emergency Department. It is taped off with the same tape Police use at accident sites. The paint is peeling and the A&E signs fading. If the local people had the power to put their case, if our health service was under our control, this "accident" would not have happened!

Siân Caiach

Saturday 13 February 2016

When the empire Strikes Back

As a former whistleblower in the NHS I was at first absolutely astounded when I was hounded for telling the truth about greedy consultant colleagues using NHS resources for their private work, one of whom, a surgeon, I pointed out had apparently developed serious problems with his eyesight and was still operating. Even my professional body, the BMA, were not helpful. The management even kept the visually impaired doctor on staff and operating well after his retirement date!

It is always a shock to scratch the surface of Western Democracy and find corruption. Most people do not scratch and may sail through life without being exposed to the ugly underbelly of greed and power. From time to time you don't even need to scratch as the rotting flesh floats uncontrollably to the surface, often given buoyancy by elements of the Press, sometimes by bloggers like Jacqui Thompson.

Jacqui and her husband, like many people, had a disagreement with the local planning department  which inspired her to start her blog some years ago. Most of the content of the blog relates to local Carmarthenshire issues and sometimes serious criticism of the Council.

Criticise what goes on inside county hall at your peril
Jacqui was also famous for being arrested by the police after filming a public council meeting on her phone. There were of course no charges but the humiliation of being led away in handcuffs and treated like a criminal could not have been pleasant. The end result was freedom to film public council meetings being granted; her campaign has been successful.

Things became worse for Jacqui when Council chief Executive Mark James posted an insulting comment about Jacqui on the "Mad Axeman" blog (you have my permission to roll your eyes at this point). Subsequently he sent his post comment out to all Carmarthenshire councillors and I believe that I was the only person to reply negatively to that email. This lead to my emails being monitored to track where I was sending my miserable opinions. This is not allowable under the council's IT policy without informing me first by the way, and I'm still waiting for an explanation.

Jacqui was so outraged that she took out a libel case against the Council and Mark James. Now, Councils as government organisations cannot take out libel actions against anyone, but private individuals can. The Executive board decided to sponsor the chief executive to counter-sue Ms Thompson and with the might of public funds which financed the best lawyers in the land. Jacqui lost and Mr James got a bonus of £25K damages awarded to him on top of a free highly-paid lawyer at public expense. Not willing to accept an installment payment plan, he has recently sent in the bailiffs to get his money.
Emlyn Dole: The price of success in the
CCC is keeping your morals to yourself

Now although the Wales Audit Office rules the financing of Mr James' counter claim as unlawful, the Councillors, as a body, never have accepted this, just promised to suspend the clause of the constitution allowing council officers to be financed in libel cases. Even the current council Plaid Leadership refuses to accept the ruling. Interestingly, although the Plaid group leader and leader of the opposition at the time of the legal case, Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths, seemed supportive of action against Jacqui, the position of current Plaid Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, was more balanced in opposition.

His conversion to denying the ruling of the Audit Office probably goes with the job of Council Leader for the CCC. It may even have been a condition of his coalition agreement with the right wing Independent, group who certainly seemed disturbingly enthusiastic for prosecuting the troublesome blogger.

The end result is financial ruin of a family simply because one member criticised a County Council who then decided to use the full power of the courts to silence her. This punishment may be legal but its not moral. Its time to draw the matter to a sensible and equitable conclusion and I am sure that most of the Carmarthenshire public would agree..

Siân Caiach

Thursday 11 February 2016

The Welsh "Immigrant Crisis" for our NHS

Every year many retirees and others, mainly from England, make their homes in Wales. Since many are elderly, they soon need medical help. Over time the cost of this extra burden can get considerable while at the same time we hear idiots like Cameron sniping at the quality of the NHS in Wales! The technology is already in existence to allow these people to be accompanied by the remaining portions of their NHS contributions over their lifetimes when they cross the border.As far as I know this does not happen.

In Carmarthenshire and other areas it is even Council Planning policy  to encourage the building of "luxury" homes to attract new residents, mainly elderly, with the risk of negative impact on social services.and healthcare.Again, no money follows other than a few extra council tax payments.

I find it annoying, especially nowadays when we hear so much bleating from England about refugees coming to England and getting NHS treatment when they have not contributed a penny!

The Welsh NHS, like all of Wales, is already short-changed financially by Westminster so we are actually subsidising the English NHS by taking what would have been their workload.

Members of the Pembrey over 60's club, recently 
forced to disband when the Councill increased the hall rental

It is despicable that the English Government do not pay for their ex-pats in a neighbouring country whose NHS they have starved for decades. How dare some English politicians criticise our NHS when they impose on it this way. If we are a union of equal Nations we should have had equal investment in our NHS where in fact we have been starved of money by Westminster. They cannot have it both ways... oops, but they do, because Plaid Cymru and the slavish so-called Welsh Labour say nothing!

Clem Thomas

Monday 8 February 2016

May 2007 The tipping point that changed Scotland for the better and passed Wales by.

In 2007 the national elections in Wales and Scotland both produced a result of "no overall" control. In Scoltand the result was the first SNP Government of Scotland and a minority government which excluded the Labour party from power and ruled with the co-operation of ,at various times, of all the other Parties, including Conservatives. After this the decline in Labour's support in Scotland became unstoppable, as their dominance was shattered and the SNP achieved a reputation for good government which they have retained since.

In Wales the result could have been a Rainbow coalition led by Plaid which also would have excluded Labour from power. In fact, due to leading Plaid Members deciding to do a deal with Labour instead, Labour were strengthened and Plaid weakened. The end result for Plaid was losing electoral support and the position of Wales' second Party. The end result for Wales was yet more mediocre Labour Governments.

 What exactly happened in 2007? Lets look at the results :-

Scotland:    [total seats129]  win target 62       Wales: [total seats 60] win target 31
SNP      47                                                        Plaid Cymru    15
Labour  46                                                        Labour             26
Conservative  17                                               Conservative   12
LibDems      16                                                 LibDems          6
Indy               1                                                  Indy                 1
Greens          2

Now, looking at both governments a coalition with the Liberals could have given Labour a solid  majority coalition in Wales but in Scotland they needed a second party of 3 or more members to join to get a majority. The independent member was the nationalist Margo McDonald, not likely to help, and even with both greens they would have fallen short. However, in both administrations the Liberals were not playing ball with the Labour Party having become unhappy with the results of the previous arrangements.

In Scotland every single opposition party decided to put the boot into Labour and keep kicking. After all, it was in all their interests to diminish Labour by keeping them out of power in the Scottish Parliament. A minority government meant that the SNP would be unlikely to put through  any major policy changes  without the support of either Libdems, Greens or Tories. The nationalists, who had no actual experience of government , concentrated on the business of running the administration and did it well. They have dominated Scottish Politics since, their popularity currently is as much for their reputation for good governance as their Scottish nationalism

In Wales a different thing happened. A "rainbow coalition" of all the opposition parties was proposed. Plaid would, as the largest party of the coalition, lead the show and Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid's leader ,would  be first minister. Again, there would have been a tremendous political advantage for all the other parties. There was considerable popular support for this option but the Liberal Democrat Executive meeting split 50/50 on the subject  and called a special conference to decide the issue, delaying matters. When that special conference met it endorsed the rainbow coalition. However, in the meantime a group of Plaid assembly members and one of their MP's ,Adam Price, had formed a group to negotiate a deal between Plaid and Labour , Although we know who these people were, why they so strongly preferred Labour is not so clear publicly other than their rather underdeveloped ideological objection to working with the Conservatives and their reluctance to be nasty to Labour.

As a joint statement by the 4 AM's stated on May 22nd 2007 put it:-

"We fought this election on a platform to deliver a proper Parliament for our nation. A deal with the Conservatives would undermine the chance of delivering that goal."
 Helen Mary Jones, Leanne Wood, Bethan Jenkins, Nerys Evans

How do Conservatives make parliaments improper? Are they really more unionist than the Labour Party who, in 2014 magnificently sacrificed themselves in Scotland to keep the Union for a few more years? If any of you ladies ever read this, please expand your arguments in the comment section!

Of all the Unionist parties, the only one to not "go native" in the Sennedd is Labour, who think they can win every time and have led every government so far. The other parties are sold on the advantages of a degree of proportional representation without which they would have little repesentation. In every group of humans there are varying political views and always will be. In government  at every level there is also a considerable degree of cross party consensus. Maybe it was all just too hard and too difficult? When the insiders finally spill the beans, I suspect it will make a much better drama/documentary than the Cameron- Clegg engagement did.

I was a Plaid activist in 2007 and heard our local AM,Helen Mary Jones tell us that for her the decision was made for the following reasons:

1. You should always make a coalition with the largest party.
2. The Liberal Democrats are always unreliable.
3. The Conservatives are so right wing you should never, ever work with them.
4. The Labour party are "socialists" like Plaid and our natural allies
5. Plaid has no experience of  government and needs prior ministerial experience to form a competent government eventually.
6. With a Labour Government in Westminster, any coalition without Labour would be under constant political attack.

Was it just because the majority of Plaid AM's were convinced it was easier and ideologically better?

                         Did Ieuan Wyn Jones lose his nerve... or was he stabbed in the back ?

So it was a done deal, I suspect that if the Plaid branches and membership had been properly consulted prior to the decision to negotiate with Labour ,it would have been different outcome. The pro Labour group I think, knew that well. To most members, getting Labour out of government and getting a Plaid First Minister was more important than ideological differences in a coalition. .Labour would have been broken, possibly permanently, as they were in Scotland. As it was, Plaid ended up diminished.

Are we sliding into the same scenario where there is only one option for Plaid despite the consequences of the last coalition? As Einstein said, his definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result.

Siân Caiach

Friday 5 February 2016

Forget the Labour Party

Its coming up to election time again and my anger is triggered by Labour propaganda that now regularly contaminates my letter box.
Just over 100 years ago Labour seduced our working class with promises of Home Rule, and once they had thus captured our people they then did all they could (still doing it!) to stifle Welshness. Labour catastrophically promotes imperialism on to a betrayed people under the guise of 'Internationalism' -- so long as that maintains England's superiority in all things.
Any expressions or aspirations of national identity (always great for the English, but not for us) is quickly labelled 'nationalism' and then is childishly and poisonously made out to be akin to Nazism.
Welsh Labour does not exist, and the term should be discontinued immediately. If Trading Standards had any integrity they would step in. Some hope!
Labour here in Llanelli and in much of Wales has a shocking record of campaigning locally (misleading our people once again!) but then voting the opposite way in Cardiff or Westminster when their real bosses in London tell them to.
Labour should stop using smoke and mirrors tactics in order to create false and time-wasting campaign topics -- and once again mislead our people.
They should work with other parties if they have a good idea or policy -- instead of persisting with their current 'dog in a manger' attitude of voting against good things that might benefit people in wards they don’t control; e.g. Community Halls/Centres. How dare they short change our people like that!
Over the past few years (that I know about anyway) Labour has nearly always opposed plans that either they did not think of themselves or are plans put forward that would benefit communities who had the cheek to not produce a majority vote for Labour. In other words, no matter how good or beneficial a scheme may be, too many Labour councillors would rather see the people go without if it means another party may get the plaudits for good works. It appears that all too often only the Labour Party must benefit -- certainly not you the electorate!
Examples? Labour councillors here in Llanelli opposed the building of the new community hall in Furnace and also the new community hall in Llangennech. Both of those enterprises are resounding success stories. And as a former community councillor myself I witnessed many times how often very good suggestions were put down by them -- simply because they did not think of them first.
But then again perhaps, poor souls, they have only bad examples to follow. All too often our local Labour politicians run around the area loudly protesting about something and supporting local campaigners -- until their bosses in London, London mind you, not Cardiff, tell them to toe the line. And they do so every time. Yes sir, three bags full, sir!
But there is always a silver lining if one looks hard enough. More and more, newer people are coming forward to enter politics on behalf of you the people, and answerable only to you. Some of them act independently while some form new parties. One such party is People First/Gwerin Gyntaf. Why not check them out and maybe even help to restore some dignity and openness to our local government -- before it is too late!
You the people deserve far better representation than Labour. There's an important election coming along soon so don't let those fickle dogs in the manger mislead you any more!
Clem Thomas

Tuesday 2 February 2016

The Assembly - what are voting for?

With the Assembly elections drawing near and I myself preparing to stand, it occurs to me it might be a good idea to explain why. Like any job application, it’s good to start with an understanding of what we’re facing in the role
The Scottish Parliament building - Our Big Sister?

The National Assembly has been sitting in Cardiff since 1999. It has 60 members, 40 of which are elected on the first past the post system and 20 of which are list members elected by the Regions with the second vote. This part of the election uses a form of proportional representation which divided the votes of the parties by the number of seats they already have, giving smaller parties more of an advantage to balance things up.

The Welsh Assembly is popular. Polls have consistently shown that people generally like it and are supportive of more powers for the Sennedd. Even UKIP, who had campaigned for the abolition of the Assembly until September 2013, threw in the towel and are now desperate to put its members into seats in Cardiff Bay. It is responsible for Health, Education, Agriculture, Environment, Local Government, Business Policy, Culture etc., all the functions of the old UK Welsh Office. It is funded by UK Taxpayers using the “Barnett Formula”, a deal which gives it a fixed income. It has limited opportunity to get any more money through taxes and fees etc., even with the more recent extra powers.

We have been successful in some fields. Free prescriptions for all, free bus passes for the elderly and disabled, an opt-out organ donation system, no smoking in public places etc. We are good at the single issue options.

Unfortunately I would argue that we have not been so good at the larger challenges. Health, Education, Environment, Transport infrastructure, Housing, Social Justice and public services in general have not turned out entirely as promised.

In the beginning the problems were variously attributed to internal difficulties. The Assembly civil servants were  sourced from the Welsh Office where apparently those who couldn’t cut it in Whitehall were sent to “do no harm.”. Surprisingly they then  had to set  up a new government for Wales. Money was wasted on useless computer systems .Many  projects  failed to get off the drawing board. Reorganisation of Health Authorities and Local Government had already been set in motion and the new government couldn't stop the reorganisation of the NHS.

Many of the new elected members seemed ill-prepared for government. The suggestion was that most parties were fielding the “B” teams, those not good enough to be put up for MP posts given a consolation prize with good money and prestige. Others believe the problem is too little money to really improve the prospects of our country. Wales got less cash per head than Scotland did. Scotland also had real roads and a better NHS before devolution. I know, I used to live and work there. Wales inherited chronic under-funding of public services and national infrastructure. The only efficient new north south transport route for our country is the subsidised “Ieuan Air” flights from Cardiff to North wales which are hardly suitable for mass public use. You can hardly pretend to be a proper country when getting from A to B is so difficult.
Cardiff has benefited greatly from the Welsh Government being based there and is a prosperous city. The rest of Wales has not done so well and Mid and West Wales are still practically in recession.  Our Health and Social Services are being relentlessly eroded, the weather patterns threaten us much more on the West than the East and plans to maintain or improve local industries, healthcare and services are sadly lacking.

The campaign itself is muddied by slagging off one side or another over actually offering anything yourself. There will be vague promises of big improvements, great leaps forward and a stronger better government. The unspoken questions about why the current government forgot to do all this last time will be swept under the rug in the pomp and performance of campaigning. They cloud empty declarations behind scripted trash-talking, treating the governing of a country like a sport to be won or lost.

When you support a sporting team you cheer for the player wearing the shirt out of loyalty, even if you know that individual is rubbish. Voting for your government is not a game, it is real life with real consequences. All of the parties in power in the Assembly so far have let us down. Under performance has become a bad habit.

People First is a different sort of party.

It was formed as a Welsh party to represent you, the people who live here, and no-one else. We accept that different parts of Wales need different things and face different challenges. One size does not and should not fit all. The inhabitants of  are as deserving of a better, fairer, competent  government as anyone else!

Siân Caiach,
People first/Gwerin Gyntaf candidate for Llanelli and Mid and West Wales