Thursday 29 May 2014

Rubbish news

Anyone who drives along the A48 between Carmarthen and Cross Hands will be aware of a certain fragrance in the air as you pass Nantycaws. As locals know, it isn't cheese but the pong coming from the landfill and waste management site operated by CWM Environmental, a wholly owned subsidiary of Carmarthenshire County Council.

The waste produced by households, businesses, hospitals and other public bodies has to go somewhere, and in Carmarthenshire most of it ends up at Nantycaws.

Don't tell Ukip, but the drive to recycle more and send less to landfill is a direct consequence of EU policy, with those meddling Brussels bureaucrats forcing member states to tackle the problem by setting binding targets under a directive.

The Landfill Directive set targets to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill to 50% of 1995 levels by 2009 and 35% by 2016.

The UK was a relative late developer when it came to recycling, and some readers may remember jokes about Germans washing their yoghurt pots. At any rate, the UK negotiated softer targets, reducing landfill to 50% of 1995 levels by 2013 and 35% by 2020.

Devolution has also had an impact, with the Welsh Government setting rather more ambitious targets for Wales than England. The target Welsh councils are now working towards is to hit 70% in the next couple of years.

The main weapon in the armoury is landfill tax, a levy on every tonne of waste going to landfill, with the money going to national treasuries rather than Brussels. To encourage more recycling, landfill tax rates have been rising steadily year on year. In 1996 the standard rate was £7 per tonne; today it is £80. Moreover, councils which fail to meet their targets for landfill face fines of £200 per tonne of waste dumped to landfill in excess of their allocation.

So far, it seems, Welsh councils have managed to come in below their allocations, with Carmarthenshire among those which have used only around 70% of their allowance. Wrexham and Pembrokeshire are among those which have been hovering perilously close to the limit.

In a recent post (Rubbish Statistics), this blog looked at a report in Resource magazine dealing with recycling rates. Carmarthenshire was one of the best performers in the UK, although statistics being statistics, other Welsh local authorities could reasonably have made the same claim.

Carmarthenshire nevertheless performed very well for the period 2012/13, and the survey also showed that while recycling rates have been improving in Wales, many English authorities have been going backwards.

As it happens, the Welsh Local Government Association produces very detailed reports looking at waste management in Wales, with a particular emphasis on cost and efficiency. The most recent one available on the WLGA's website (here) covers the period 2011/12 and runs to 55 pages. It uses many different measures to compare performance, and so inevitably there is something there which would enable just about any of the 22 Welsh local authorities to claim that they are best in one category or another, unless you are Wrexham Borough Council.

Carmarthenshire performs well on most of the measures, and very well on some, but perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the report is the huge variance in cost and performance across Wales. For example, the cost of recycling a tonne of dry materials was eight times higher in rural Powys than it was in the cheapest authority, and Denbighshire (a mix of rural and urban areas) showed a very impressive performance in terms of cost versus volumes and percentage of dry materials recycled.

If the tax has been the stick driving landfill down, the carrot has been an arrangement which enables landfill operators to use up to 6% of the tax to award grants to community projects.

Under the scheme grants can be awarded to a wide range of different activities, including renovating churches and other places of worship, projects aimed at restoring and reclaiming land, conservation schemes and "the provision, maintenance and improvement of a public park or other public amenity".

In recent years grants administered under the Landfill Communities scheme by CWM in Carmarthenshire have been running at around £250,000 per year. Grants range from a few thousand pounds (e.g. £3,500 for improvements to Llanddarog Village Hall) to £150,000 (the National Botanic Gardens at Llanarthne). Perhaps the most controversial grant (£50,000) went to Towy Community Church's bowling alley in Johnstown just outside Carmarthen.

CWM is adamant that there is no political interference in its grant awards.

£1.8 million has been paid out since 2006, and during that time recycling rates have improved year on year, more than doubling over the period. Conversely, volumes going to landfill have declined by more than 50%.

From next month CWM will begin processing residual waste and sending the remainder for treatment and conversion into fuel. One consequence of this will be the demise of the community landfill scheme in Carmarthenshire and an end to the grants. If little or nothing is going to landfill, there will be no landfill tax to fund the grants.

From around the middle of June, then, CWM will start deploying new plant to separate organic waste (mainly food residues) from plastic, metal, card and uncontaminated paper. What is left will be baled, wrapped and sent on as waste derived fuel, commonly known in the industry as WRF.

The market for this material is mainland Europe where it is used for heat and power systems. The UK market is still in its infancy, but capacity is rising. The Viridor plant in Cardiff will be operational by late summer, although it is subject to planning conditions which look unreasonable if you live outside south-east Wales. Input material is restricted to the ‘Prosiect Gwyrdd’ local authorities in the Cardiff area, but capacity is more than the combined amount of waste in the region. 

The upshot of this is that waste in the form of WRF from the rest of south and south west Wales will be sent hundreds of miles east, bypassing Cardiff, adding to our carbon footprint and with local council taxpayers paying to get rid of what is basically a resource.

Controversially there are plans for a new privately operated (energy from waste) EFW plant at the New Lodge Farm landfill site in Cwmgwili.

The plant is the brainchild of a company called Clean Power Properties, would separate organic waste from recyclable plastics, metals etc., and treat it using anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis to create gases which would be combusted to produce heat and power. There would also be a solar farm on the site to feed into the National Grid.

The company has embarked on a major PR drive, and has set up a website specifically to sell the virtues of the project. Hooking up a plant of this size to the National Grid would not come cheap, but perhaps the biggest question hanging over the project is what would happen to the heat, not least because the site is miles from the nearest centres of population, Ammanford being the nearest.

Whatever happens, it seems that the pong at Nantycaws will soon be a thing of the past.

Or as the young poet Eurig Salisbury had it:

A dyna pam ei bod hi'n haws
i fi ddod o hyd i Nant y Caws. 

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Ukip - a lesson from history

In retrospect the European elections in 2014 were a turning point. Voters in the UK, as it was still known, had taken them no more seriously than the Eurovision Song Contest, and Ukip under its populist leader Nigel Farage performed rather better than expected. Nevertheless the most popular daily newspaper of the time, Rupert Murdoch's Sun, ran with a story about a celebrity love triangle on its front page the day after the results were declared.

The more serious newspapers reacted with alarm. The Guardian reported that Farage's agent had previously been an organiser for the now defunct fascist National Front, and that Alan Sked, the founder of Ukip, was adamant that Farage had told him he was not worried about the n-word vote because "the nig-nogs will never vote for us".

Despite this nobody paid much attention, and the Labour Party continued to ignore Ukip and concentrate its fire on what was left of the Liberal Democrats.

The next shock came in September 2014 when Scotland voted to become independent, with fears about what was happening south of the border fuelling a much stronger Yes vote than expected.

The Labour Party under its leader Ed Milliband had been struggling to make headway even before the Scottish vote, but it now faced climbing an electoral mountain.

Two elections

The May 2015 general election was much closer than many had expected. The Liberal Democrats were reduced to a rump of just 6 seats and were now back to where they had been in the 1950s, but by splitting the Conservative vote, Ukip emerged holding the balance of power with a contingent of 38 MPs.

The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, was forced to resign after a revolt by hardline Eurosceptic MPs. Nigel Farage refused to go into coalition with the new minority Conservative administration headed by Douglas Carswell.

Ed Milliband resigned the party leadership immediately after the election and was succeeded by Ed Balls, who set out to win back working class Labour votes by taking a much tougher line on immigration and siding with the anti-European lobby.

Prime Minister Carswell promised an in-out referendum for May 2016, but before the campaign could get underway, Farage and his Ukip MPs joined Labour in a vote of no confidence, and a general election was called for March 2016.

Leading Tory Eurosceptics successfully negotiated a coupon arrangement with Ukip, and the result was a landslide for the right. Ukip emerged with 20 seats more than the Tories, and Labour was reduced to just 126.

Nigel Farage entered 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister on 18 March 2016, officially at the head of a coalition with the Conservatives, and announced that the new government was immediately suspending membership of the EU, pending a snap referendum to be held a month later.

In a televised address as Prime Minister a week later, Farage announced that the country would be charting an exciting new course. Unity and a common sense of purpose would be vital, and for that reason he would be seeking approval of a new Defence of the Realm and Emergency Powers Act (DOREPA) as part of the referendum on the EU.

He was also delighted to announce the formation of a new government of national unity. Ed Balls took the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer, while the new Tory leader, Boris Johnson, became Foreign Secretary. In a popular move Jeremy Clarkson became Minister for the Environment. The Sun was ecstatic.

Ed Balls crossed the floor with 30 MPs, leaving the opposition benches populated by rump Labour, a handful of Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

DOREPA and the Referendum

Parliament set about an ambitious legislative programme even before the referendum. The Human Rights Act was repealed; the Welsh Assembly was abolished and Health and Safety legislation was scrapped. A new 34% flat rate of income tax and national insurance was introduced. This was highly popular with higher rate tax payers, but meant that several million low-paid workers and pensioners found themselves paying tax on very low incomes.

The financial markets had been watching nervously, and the decision by voters to back immediate withdrawal from the EU caused a serious run on the pound and very heavy falls on the stock market.

The Bank of England was put under the control of Chancellor Balls who introduced exchange controls and a base rate of 7%. Inflation began to creep up.

As 2016 wore on the pound continued to drop, and Balls responded by raising interest rates until base rate reached 15%.

There was a sharp rise in mortgage repossessions, and in a popular move Farage invoked DOREPA for the first time to order the banks to convert mortgages into equity instead of repossession, with home owners paying rent instead of their mortgages.

This had unexpected consequences: the government was now finding it very hard to borrow on the international capital markets, and the credit ratings of the banks were revised sharply down to junk status.

Chancellor Balls responded by announcing that government spending would be slashed. Benefit payments were cut by 50% and plans for health insurance schemes were announced to replace the NHS. Crapita and other private sector service providers were awarded franchises to run hospitals and GP surgeries.

A long, hot summer

Investment by overseas companies dried up, and some major players announced that market conditions in rump UK and the imposition of tariffs by the EU were forcing them to relocate to mainland Europe, Ireland and Scotland.

Unemployment rose sharply, and by the end of 2016 it was nearly 3 million. Large numbers of British expats began to return from Europe because they could no longer get work or residence permits. Fortunately this influx was matched by an exodus of EU citizens, including many Scottish and Irish families.

Inflation was reported to be running at 30%, and nobody paid attention to Bank of England base rates any more. Foreign holidays were out of reach for most people, and even the well-off were finding it difficult thanks to exchange controls and a worthless pound.

Riots broke out in many English cities, and there was widespread looting and scores of deaths.

The Prime Minister invoked DOREPA again to impose drastic restrictions on news reporting in an attempt to prevent "copy cat" riots, or so the government said.

The board of the BBC was dismissed, and government commissioners sent in to ensure "balanced coverage" of news and current affairs. Newspapers were subjected to similar controls.

Vigilante groups appeared on the streets, armed and equipped with what appeared to be police and army-issue weapons and equipment. Pitched battles took place, and eye witnesses said they had seen many bodies.


The Prime Minister went on television to announce that terrorist elements were at work, and he blamed foreign extremists for the unrest. With immediate effect the government would use powers conferred by DOREPA to intern those responsible, partly for their own protection, prior to deporting them "back to where they came from".

Thousands of people were rounded up, and snatch squads began operating across the country to remove "terrorist and foreign elements" and hold them in camps run by Krapita, G-four-S and other private sector companies. When foreign journalists claimed that conditions in the camps were terrible, the Prime Minister commented that these were not holidays camps.

Capital punishment was reintroduced.

The collapse of the pound, soaring inflation and a desperate shortage of foreign exchange meant that shops ran out of many basic foodstuffs and commodities. If you wanted coffee or bananas the only way to get them was on the now thriving black market, where dealers would accept only Euros.

In fact, the Euro had become the de facto currency of rump UK, and if you wanted a plumber or electrician, you could expect to have to pay in cash, in Euros.

There were severe fuel shortages, and hundreds of thousands of public sector workers were laid off because of the desperate state of public finances. The government's attempts to pay the bills by printing money had only served to boost inflation further.


By 2018 Britain had been expelled from the Commonwealth and had its membership of a host of other international organisations suspended. The Commonwealth's decision was mocked in a memorable party political broadcast by the Rt Hon Jeremy Clarkson.

On a begging trip to the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, stunned the media when he announced that he would be seeking asylum.

Despite the government's best efforts to control the media, including bans on Facebook and Twitter, satellite TV and the internet meant that uncensored news was freely circulating.

Those suspected of spreading "false and malicious" rumours were likely to be picked up by the paramilitary League of St George and interned "for their own safety".

A combination of the government's new Repatriation Grant Scheme, open attacks on foreign-looking or sounding people in the streets (including a Welsh family from Caernarfon on a day trip to Birmingham), and the threat of internment resulted in a dramatic exodus from the country.

Nigel Farage went on television to announce that his government had solved the housing crisis, and that henceforth Parliament would meet on just one day a year to approve decrees issued under DOREPA. This would stop any further abuse of MPs' expenses, Farage declared.

On 30 January 2019 officially backed unionist paramilitaries mowed down hundreds of people in Belfast calling for reunification with the Republic.

The Sun, Daily Mail and Times marked the occasion with special souvenir editions to celebrate the birth of a second son to Wills and Kate.

The general election scheduled for March 2021 was cancelled on security grounds.


This post has attracted several responses from people who claim that Plaid Cymru is xenophobic - some of them most likely from Labour's black propaganda department. So here for the record is what Leanne Wood has said about the party's principles:

Tuesday 27 May 2014

More number crunching

As mentioned last week, representatives of the political parties get to scrutinise the process of verifying votes ahead of the official count, and in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Plaid sampled 924 ballots from boxes in 13 wards from across the constituency. On that sample, Plaid won every box, and some very comfortably indeed.

Labour was also busy sampling, and they knew ahead of the count that they would be heading for third place.

One of the exceptions in the constituency was Llandovery where Ukip is believed to have topped the poll, with Plaid second and Labour third (this is a correction to the previous post which had Plaid winning in every ward).

Based on this sampling, the returns for the constituency come out at:

Plaid: 42.6%
UKIP: 28.4%
Labour: 13.2%
Tory: 8%

The official results are for the county as a whole, and figures are not published for the constituencies contained within them, but compared with the European election in 2009 the sample shows that Plaid Cymru was up 4%, Labour down 2% and the Tories saw their vote halved to 8%. Ukip put on 10%.

Unconfirmed as yet are the turnout figures for the individual wards, but overall it is believed that turnout in Llanelli was significantly lower than in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

Monday 26 May 2014

The morning after

The results are in, and it was a pretty disastrous night for everyone in Wales except Ukip. What good news there was is that Plaid held onto its seat in the European Parliament. That was no mean achievement considering that Labour was always going to bounce back from its disastrous performance in 2009 when Gordon Brown was still entrenched in No. 10 and that Ukip had the wind in its sails.

As things turned out, Labour's bounce was more of the dead cat variety, and in Wales the party failed to pick up the second seat it had been very confident of taking.

In Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru topped the poll, with Labour falling back into third place:

Plaid 15,281
UKIP 12,495
Lab 11,793
Tories 6,686

It is worth remembering that these votes were for Carmarthenshire as a whole, which includes the whole of the constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and part of Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

In Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Plaid won in every single ward.

How the parties react as they lick their wounds over the next few days and weeks remains to be seen, but Owen Smith MP, Labour's shadow Secretary of State for Wales in Westminster, was happily tweeting last night, oblivious of the large elephant standing next to him in the room and tapping him on the shoulder:

Saturday 24 May 2014

Cariad at Iaith a'r siaradwyr colledig

Byddai'n hawdd gwneud hwyl ar ben y 'selebs' fydd yn dysgu Cymraeg dros wythnos o Cariad at Iaith yn Nant Gwrtheyrn eleni: dyn canol oed oedd yn canu mewn grŵp anghofiedig yn y 90au, actores sy'n byw yn Llundain, cyn-chwaraewr pêl-droed, seren cyfres realiti ar Channel 5, tri arall a Jenna pwy?

Cafodd pob un ohonyn nhw eu haddysgu yng Nghymru, a'r rhan fwyaf yn weddol ddiweddar. Mae'r ffaith eu bod nhw'n cael eu trin fel dechreuwyr pur yn tystio i fethiant llwyr Cymraeg ail iaith fel pwnc yn ein system addysg, on'd yw hi?

Ond peidiwch â fy nghamddeall - mae gan y rhaglen y bwriadau gorau. Dim ond gofyn ydw i pa mor effeithiol yw hi. 

Nod y rhaglen yw ysbrydoli eraill i ddysgu'r iaith, mae'n debyg. Dyna'r meddylfryd y tu ôl i ddewis carfan sy'n cynnwys pobl (weddol) enwog ac ifanc o ardaloedd trefol de Cymru. Y ddemograffeg sy'n bwysig, ond gan fod y rhaglen yn cael ei darlledu ar S4C, mae yna le i ofyn faint o bobl ddi-Gymraeg yn eu 20au/30au sy'n debyg o wylio.

Mae Cariad at Iaith yn pregethu i'r cadwedig, ac o farnu yn ôl esiampl y blynyddoedd blaenorol, isel iawn yw'r tebygolrwydd y bydd mwy nag un aelod o garfan 2014 yn croesi'r bont, os hynny.

Mewn gwirionedd, mae yna hen ddigon o gyrsiau a chyfleodd i ddechreuwyr pur ymhobman, ond os ydyn ni am adfer yr iaith yn ei chadarnleoedd a chreu Cymru wir ddwyieithog, mae grŵp mawr o bobl yn ein plith sydd yn cael eu hesgeuluso. Yn ôl y cyfrifiad, 5.3% (dros 150,000 o bobl) yw'r canran sy'n deall Cymraeg lafar yn unig. Dydyn nhw byth yn siarad Cymraeg, felly, ac roedd 20,000 ohonyn nhw yn Sir Gaerfyrddin.

Dychmygwch - mi fyddai Ioan Talfryn a Nia Parry'n creu 8 o siaradwyr newydd o fewn wythnos.

Friday 23 May 2014

Votes and rumours

Votes from yesterday's European elections in Wales won't be counted until Sunday, and it is unlikely that we will get the results until Monday, but the Carmarthen Journal is reporting that turnout for Carmarthenshire was slightly down at between 36 and 37 per cent, compared with 38% in 2009.

That still compares fairly well with the overall turnout for Wales, which is provisionally put at 32% (ITV), up from 30% in 2009.

As Roger Scully from the Wales Governance Centre points out, Labour's best results in elections to the Assembly were achieved when turnout was lowest. We'll see, but ahead of the count comes the job of verifying the votes, with party representatives in attendance to scrutinise the process.

Early glimpses and samples suggest that the Plaid vote in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was very strong, with both Labour and the Tories taking a hammering. Plaid sources say that the party was ahead in every single ward.

In Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire the rumour is that the Tory vote has collapsed and that Ukip has polled more than expected. Tory Simon Hart took the seat from Labour in 2009.


Back in Carmarthen, the County Council held its Annual General Meeting this week. Judging from the empty seats, quite a few councillors understandably came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time showing up.

The only surprise was the no-show of chief executive Mark James who returned to work after almost three months of self-imposed exile a fortnight before. In the meeting the previous week Mr James spoke only once when he read out the list of apologies.

Labour's Cllr Keri Thomas (Tyisha) meanwhile clocked up his eleventh successive apology for absence, and he was last seen at a meeting of the full council in September.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Prize giving day and an end of term report

Carmarthenshire County Council's annual parade of posh frocks, bouquets and silly uniforms, otherwise known as the Annual General Meeting, will be held today. Unless you are interested in seeing what Meryl will be wearing this year (think Cruella Deville meets the Queen Mother with a side-helping of Edna Everidge), you may have better things to do.

If that hasn't put off any potential viewers, Kev will be presenting his very long annual report, of which advance copies have already gone out.

This is of course Kev's side of the story. If he has any regrets, they are too few to mention. True enough, there have been some challenges, mainly of the budgetary kind, he says, but otherwise this is a tale of progress on all fronts.

The year Kevin Madge sees in his rear view mirror is very different to the one most people in Carmarthenshire will remember.

There are some worthwhile regeneration projects, although some of those pre-date Kevin Madge's role as leader by quite a long way. As usual a great deal of emphasis is placed on the council's Modernising Education Programme which is about closing down small schools and building large new ones, but apart from bricks and mortar the report has nothing much to say about what goes on inside them.

Spending tens of millions on a beautiful new campus does not guarantee a good education, and whether it's the Welsh Government's rankings, Estyn inspections or GCSE results, the evidence is that Carmarthenshire is lagging behind quite a few other Welsh local authorities. Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea are performing better on all sorts of measures, and yet Carmarthenshire has joined forces with Pembrokeshire and formalised "a new sub-regional collaborative hub for school improvement". Pembrokeshire's record in education is the envy of no-one.

The scandals and chaos which dominated the news for much of last year are referred to only indirectly. The Wales Audit Office highlighted some "procedural issues" which Kev feels need to be addressed. To that end he has asked the Welsh Local Government Association to conduct a "completely independent review" of the council's democratic structures and procedures.

If you watched the Extraordinary Meeting which discussed the WAO reports, you may remember that Meryl Gravell described the barrister representing Mark James as a "completely independent" source of legal advice. Words have a different meaning inside County Hall.

The problem is that nobody else sees the WLGA as completely independent. Its political arm is dominated by Labour, and its unelected apparatchiks have a long track record of defending the power and privileges of council chief executives and highly paid senior officers. The WLGA opposed moves to curb senior council officer pay, and it is opposed to Carwyn Jones's plans to try to reduce the number of Welsh councils.

There is a very strong hint in Kevin Madge's report that the solution to the problems which have beset the council is a brand new constitution to replace the current set of rules which govern how the council conducts its business.

The existing constitution has been repeatedly amended and patched up over the years, eroding the rights of ordinary elected councillors and handing power to the Executive Board and through them to the Chief Executive who now pretty much controls everything.

Tearing up the existing constitution and starting again sounds attractive, but the document the WLGA is certain to recommend is what is known as the New Model Constitution for local government in Wales. It was drawn up by a gaggle of local government lawyers, and for anyone who has seen some of them in action in council meetings, it will come as no surprise to learn that the results are anything but designed to strengthen democracy, transparency and accountability.

Old Grumpy, otherwise known as Mike Stoddart, the Pembrokeshire County Councillor who has been such a thorn in the side of the ruling Independent mafia on the Western Cleddau, concluded after reading the document that it was so illiberal, it might as well have been drafted by Vladimir Putin.

Carmarthenshire councillors who ask awkward questions have repeatedly been thwarted by a ruling that questions must relate to what is on the published agenda (drawn up and controlled by the chief executive). If the issue is not on the agenda, you may not ask the question, unless it is of the "Would Cllr Madge care to explain why the county has blossomed under his wonderful leadership/" kind.

Even if the subject you are asking about is on the agenda (e.g. the environment), you may find as Cllr Siân Caiach did last year that a question on pollution in the Burry Inlet is ruled inadmissible because it is, er, not on the agenda.

As Old Grumpy points out, under articles 4.19.2 and 4.19.3 of the model constitution

"Questions must, in the opinion of the chair:
(a) contain no expressions of opinion;

(b) relate to matters on which the council has or may determine a policy;
(c) not relate to questions of fact."

Once facts and opinions have been ruled out, there is not much left, and councillors might as well stay at home.

But it does not just stop at questions. Here's Old Grumpy again:

"There are several options in the NMC mainly concerning the issue of whether the councils adopt the strong or weak Leader model.

The present constitution is based on the strong Leader model which gives the leader almost identical powers to an elected mayor - without having to go to the trouble of seeking a county-wide mandate.
One option under the new arrangements is to have an even stronger leader who will be appointed after each election for the full term of the council.

To unseat the Leader will require a two thirds majority on a written Notice of Motion and only one such NoM will be allowed in any rolling twelve-month period.

If I read that correctly, once installed, the Leader could cling on to power even if he only had the support of 21 of the sixty members.

And as the Leader has the power to hire and fire Cabinet members at will, and as the cabinet has almost absolute powers, it is difficult to see how this bears any resemblance to what is traditionally regarded as democracy."

Putin would be proud.

Turning to the Welsh language, Kev welcomes the recent report by the Census Working Group which made over 70 recommendations for change. It would be unrealistic to expect him to list them, but from the 70 he has picked out increasing the provision of Welsh medium education as the most important. Whoever it was that wrote the report (we can be sure it was not Kev) makes no mention whatever of the report's proposals to make Welsh the working language of parts of the council administration, even though that stands out alongside the plans for schools as the most significant change which the council appeared to accept when it adopted the report.

What the report shows is not so much a strong leader, but a leader on a tightrope trying to balance the competing and conflicting demands of those who keep him in power. On the one hand there are the senior officers and "Independents" led in reality by Meryl Gravell, and on the other is the Labour group on the council which is divided between the Llanelli and Ammanford factions and those who cynically favour a strategy of sitting the recent scandals out in the belief that, come election time, people will have forgotten all about them, versus those who want change. If that was not bad enough, Kev also has to contend with the constituency parties and the wider Labour hierarchy which knows from canvassing that what has happened in Carmarthenshire is pure electoral poison.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Vote for Jill Evans

Embedded image permalinkThe opinion polls have been very volatile during the last few weeks, and this Thursday we will finally get to decide who will represent Wales in the European Parliament.

Much of the British press, Tory right wingers and Ukip like to treat the European Parliament as a joke, but it isn't and we need a strong Welsh voice there. The only candidate with a realistic chance of winning who does not take her orders from Westminster is Jill Evans.

150,000 Welsh jobs depend directly on trade with the EU, and the EU underpins the economic well being of Welsh agriculture. Trade with Europe is worth £5 billion to our economy every year. We receive structural funds to improve our infrastructure and invest in community and regeneration projects, and Jill Evans was the only Welsh MEP who voted to protect EU funding for Wales and against budget cuts. She is also a well-known campaigner on issues such as clamping down on tax avoidance, voting to cap bankers' bonuses and speaking up on the need to protect our environment.

Jill Evans

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Jill will be getting my vote, but whatever your views please use yours and ensure that fear, stupidity and hatred do not triumph.

Monday 19 May 2014

Emlyn Dole takes over as Plaid group leader in Carmarthenshire

As this blog reported a couple of weeks ago, Emlyn Dole has been elected to take over from Peter Hughes Griffiths as leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Carmarthenshire County Council, and his deputy will be Cllr David Jenkins.

Peter Hughes Griffiths will become deputy chair of the council at the AGM this month, and he made his final contributions as leader at last week's meeting of the full council. Whether you agree with him or not, Peter is a man of integrity who never minces his words, and he has a long and distinguished record of public service.

Emlyn Dole is from a different generation, and will bring his own style to the job. Those who have seen him in action know that he has a powerful intellect and is tenacious in standing up for ordinary people. He also has a great sense of humour.

 Below is the text of the official announcement with Emlyn's biographical details:

Cllr. Emlyn Dole, 57, has represented the Llannon area on the council since 2008. He is married to popular singer Gwenda Owen and is part-time minister of three Independent churches in the Gwendraeth Valley. He lived in many parts of the world in his youth, before returning to Wales as a student at University College Bangor. During his career, he has been a BBC producer and director and has worked in the fields of translation and public relations. Emlyn Dole is a member of the Planning Committee and has chaired the Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee for the past two years. 

He takes over from Cllr. Peter Hughes Griffiths, who led the Plaid group on the council for eight years. During that period, the number of Plaid councillors rose from 16 to 28. Upon retiring as group leader, Peter is taking on a new role as vice-chairman of the County Council. Cllr. David Jenkins, Glanaman, has been elected as deputy leader of the Plaid group, as Cllr. Tyssul Evans retires from the post.  

“It is with a sense of great pride that I take over the duties and responsibilities as Leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Carmarthenshire County Council,” said Cllr Emlyn Dole. “Although we are the largest political group on the Council, it is controlled by a Labour/Independent coalition which means that I take over from Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths as Leader of the Opposition. As I assume this responsibility, I would like to pay tribute to Peter’s leadership over the past eight years. During his tenure, the number of Plaid members has almost doubled, thanks in no small part to his strong leadership and total commitment. I intend to maintain that momentum and build on that foundation, by representing the views of the people of Carmarthenshire and their wish to hold the present council administration to account. It is a delight to lead such a talented team with its wealth of experience, all of which will be brought to to bear as we look towards a challenging future in local government.”

"It has been a privilege and a pleasure to lead the Plaid Cymru group through a period of growth on Carmarthenshire County Council,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths. “We have developed to be a very effective Opposition, which gives voice to public concerns about the attitudes and controversial decisions made by the coalition Labour/Independent regime in County Hall.
"I extend by best wishes to Cllr Emlyn Dole and the energetic, experienced and capable team which Plaid has on the Council. The future is in safe hands."

Sunday 18 May 2014

The May Council Meeting

The Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, was at last back in his accustomed place on the podium for this month's meeting of the full council.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the meeting was that Mr James spoke only once to read out some apologies - apologies for absence rather than a statement of his own contrition, that is. This was a very different chief executive from the pre-Valentine's Day incarnation: councillors were allowed to speak freely, and officers other than Mr James got to dispense their wisdom. But will it last?

Absent friends

There was a rather long roll call of absent councillors this time, including one name which seems to be a permanent fixture on the list of those who haven't turned up. Labour's Councillor Keri Thomas (Tyisha) has not attended one of the council's monthly meetings since September 2013. That's 10 meetings in total, including the meeting held to approve the budget and the extraordinary meeting held to discuss the unlawful pension payments and libel indemnity.

Cllr Thomas was out of action on sick leave for a year from April 2011, but felt well enough to stand in the May 2012 local government elections. He is managing to turn up to meetings of the Planning Committee, and for anyone concerned about the environment and public protection in Carmarthenshire, you will be relieved to hear that Cllr Thomas also usually makes it to meetings of the scrutiny committee which deals with these matters.

The cockles of the Loughor Estuary are safe in his hands, and if you have a rat infestation or a problem with Polish drunks, Keri's your man.


First up was a presentation by Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the Carmarthen Campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint Davids, on the decision by S4C to relocate its headquarters to Carmarthen.

The presentation showed how Carmarthen could become a hub for the creative industries, leading to the creation of hundreds of well-paid jobs in Carmarthenshire. It was about much more than relocating jobs from Cardiff.

Councillors were also given a glimpse of what the new headquarters would look like, and one of the most interesting things about it is that it will house a whole range of different activities, not just executive offices.

This is one of the most significant economic and cultural developments in the recent history of the county, and the project was led not by the County Council but the University, although some council officers were involved in the background.

Kevin Madge, who recently spoke movingly and in fluent, natural Welsh when he welcomed the report of the Census Working Group, responded with a brief and confused off-the-cuff waffle, referring in Welsh to "y Welsh language". A few minutes spent before the meeting preparing his response would have made all the difference.

Peter Hughes Griffiths proposed setting up a formal working group of councillors and council officers to work with Egin (the project set up by the University) in a formal partnership.

Strangely nobody in power seems to have thought about that, and Cllr Pam Palmer said this would have to be discussed with the University.

Cllr Glynog Davies (Plaid) welcomed the development, and referred to his part in setting up Tinopolis in Llanelli which had created hundreds of jobs for young people. He also called for the strengthening of ties between the Council and the University.

It was obvious from Glynog's remarks that he has no plans to develop a new political career in the Caernarfon area.

The presentation done with, councillors moved on to the controversy over the proposed relocation of Mid and West Wales Fire's control room from Llangunnor to Bridgend (see previous post).


One of the lessons to be learned from the fiasco at the fire authority meeting is the usefulness of a filmed record of meetings. If proceedings had been recorded it would have been much easier for those taking part to see how a report they thought they were merely noting came, at least in the eyes of the authority's officers, to be approved.

And so councillors turned their attention to a proposal to continue filming meetings of the full council for a further three years.

A number of councillors wanted to see filming extended to meetings of scrutiny committees and the planning committee, but no formal proposal was made and it remains to be seen whether these suggestions are taken up by the Executive Board. Pam Palmer, never a fan of filming from the word go, thought there could be problems.

Opinion was also divided as to whether or not the public should be allowed to film. Common sense suggests that nobody in the right minds would want to film a meeting on a mobile phone or other device if a professional and full recording is available, and the empty public gallery at Wednesday's meeting was testament to that.

Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) hit the nail on the head when he stressed the importance of filming meetings of the planning committee because there had been instances where councillors had not reflected the views of the people they were elected to represent on controversial planning applications.

The fact that a meeting is held in camera does not mean that it needs to be off camera. Given the sensitive nature of most of these closed meetings (discussions on public lavatories aside), and the fact that decisions made at them are often controversial, it is as much in the interests of those taking part that a filmed record is made as it is in the interests of the wider public.

A filmed record of Carmarthenshire's Executive Board meetings would, for have example, have helped jog the chief executive's memory when he told the High Court in London that he could not remember whether he was present when the board awarded him an indemnity in the libel case.

The worst outcome would be a situation where meetings of planning and scrutiny committees are not filmed by the council, and a ban on filming by members of the public remains in place.

Solar farms

Cllr Linda Evans (Plaid, Llanfihangel ar Arth) raised concerns about plans announced by the Executive Board to develop solar farms on council-owned land. It turns out that some of the land involved is the council's own farms, and Cllr Philip Hughes (Ind) said that a number of tenants had been given notice by the council to quit in order, it seems, to make way for solar panels.

Cllr Evans said that council-owned farms were crucial to giving young people an opportunity to take a first step on the ladder in farming, and she pointed out that the UK Government is taking a dim view of large solar farm developments which are subsidised through the electricity bills paid by the rest of us. Cllr Alun Lenny quoted a report which suggested that the subsidy scheme could come to an end next year.

Replying, Kevin Madge said that the council saw this as an opportunity to create a new revenue stream. Cllr Jeff Edmunds (Lab) subsequently tried to soften his master's message by saying that the council was looking hard at the matter, and it would only affect possibly 6 of the council's 27 farms.

So there we are, families being turned out of their homes, farmland being turned over to acres of solar panels, opportunities for young people to get into farming being lost and higher electricity bills for the rest of us. It's a win-win situation.

Rosa Klebb

Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) raised concerns about the continuing practice of making anonymous and often highly contentious statements to the press by a "council spokesperson/spokeswoman". Being a gentleman, Cllr Price did not hazard a guess at the identity of the spokeswoman, but she was probably seated not far away and looking daggers.

As Cllr Price pointed out, the council's own press protocol says that all statements will be attributed to a named spokesperson from the Press Office, an officer or councillor.

The most recent example of the behaviour Cllr Price was complaining about came a couple of weeks ago when there was a call from Jonathan Edwards MP for the chief executive to pay back the money he had received, in what the Wales Audit Office deemed were unlawful payments.

Now was not the time to ask Mr James to cough up, Ms Anon told the press, claiming to speak on behalf of the whole council.

If this continued, Cllr Price warned, he would ask for disciplinary measures to be taken.

Dumbing down

The final controversy of the day concerned the imminent closure of the adult education centre in Llandeilo. Cllr Edward Thomas (Ind) may have spoken before in a council meeting since he was elected two years ago, but if so nobody can remember it.

He complained about the lack of consultation (a complaint which had come up in several other contexts during the morning), and seemed slightly despairing that he would get an answer.

He need not have worried because Robert Sully, the Director of Education, was on hand to explain. Unfortunately the answer, boiled down, was that the closure will go ahead anyway and there is no need for consultation.

In essence the County Council has decided to hand responsibility for adult education courses, except for Welsh for Adults, over to Coleg Sir Gâr, although Mr Sully hinted that this may result in a much reduced offering of classes in art, computer skills, needlework, etc.

Welsh for Adults was different, and was currently undergoing a review by the Welsh Government.

Actually, that is not strictly correct. Leighton Andrews set up a group to look into reform of Welsh for Adults when he was still running education in Wales, and the group reported back last year. The Welsh Government accepted nearly all of the findings, and things are now moving slowly forward with the expectation that the new set-up should be in place by mid 2015.

What is not yet clear is who will be providing courses in Welsh for Adults. The likelihood is that the number of providers will be at least halved to around 10 across the whole of Wales, and any bodies interested will be expected to make a pitch for business. In the meantime the Welsh Government has helpfully cut the budget by 8%.

It is not clear whether the County Council intends to tender to become a provider in the future, although Chris Burns, the assistant chief executive (or rather one of them) recently told another meeting of councillors that he was working on plans to attract many more learners to classes.

Currently Welsh for Adults in Carmarthenshire is provided by a combination of the County Council and Swansea University, operating together as a centre which also provides Welsh classes in other areas, including Pembrokeshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.

It is fair to say that the current arrangement has not been an unqualified success across Wales for various reasons, with heavy-handed government bureaucracy playing a part. In Carmarthenshire the lop-sided nature of the set-up has meant that rural areas have lost out to the big urban centres, and the last few years have seen a big reduction in the number of classes available in the most linguistically sensitive areas.

So there we are, not the most thrilling of meetings, but one which aired a lot of concerns about a whole range of matters affecting ordinary residents with some fairly good debate. Just the sort of meeting which the chief executive wanted to scrap in favour of Powerpoint presentations by tame guest speakers before all that unpleasant business earlier this year.

Friday 16 May 2014


A report on this week's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council will follow, but a huge stink has blown up about the apparent decision of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue to move its command control centre from Llangunnor near Carmarthen to Bridgend, which however you look at it is not in mid or west Wales.

At Wednesday's meeting Cllr Alun Lenny presented a motion calling on the fire authority to consult and reconsider its decision. He pointed out that Mawwfire was now planning to set up a new control centre at a cost of millions of pounds in a joint project with South Wales Police and the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Dyfed Powys Police are not part of the scheme.

Cllr Tom Defis (Plaid) pointed out that whereas police, fire and ambulance were currently all working together in the same control room in Llangunnor, the move of the fire service control room to Bridgend would mean that the emergency services would no longer all be together.

Ahead of the meeting the Plaid councillors in Carmarthen had a meeting with the Assistant Chief Fire Officer, on which more below, and they also questioned the legal validity of the fire service's decision, which was taken in private after public and press were excluded. Cllr Lenny has asked whether the public interest test required under the 1972 Local Government Act was properly applied.

Although Labour and Independent councillors voted in favour of the motion (it would have been extraordinary if they hadn't), Calum Higgins (Lab) thought he could make some political capital out of the row, and began finger pointing at the Plaid group.

The fire service had been politicised, the young aspiring politician claimed, although he acknowledged that things had improved during the last year.

At a recent extraordinary meeting of the fire authority to discuss the resignation of the Chief Fire Officer, a lengthy report on the proposed relocation of the command centre had been tacked on to the agenda, and members had only had three days to read it. The agenda had made it clear, he said, that the report was only to be noted.

The chair of the authority, Roy Llewelyn, who also happens to be a Plaid county councillor, was in Calum's unpolitical view in the frame for blame.

Cllr Llewelyn was unfortunately not in the chamber to give his side of the story because he was attending the funeral of a close relative, but it seems that in common with other members of the authority, he was also under the impression that the report was merely to be noted, with full discussion and a decision to be scheduled for a future date.

Peter Hughes Griffiths said that Roy Llewelyn only had two weeks left as chair of the fire authority, but he understood that he would be seeking to have the report brought put back on the agenda.

Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) called on Plaid and Labour to work together for the good of the county. Both parties wanted the same thing, he said, and trying to apportion blame was the wrong way to go about it.

Minutes later Cllr Anthony Jones (Lab) was on his feet to say he was not interested in the politics before going on to make a string of political attacks while demonstrating once again that he had not understood why the Wales Audit Office had taken Carmarthenshire County Council to task.

Unfortunately for Cllr Jones, Calum Higgins popped up next to say that the members of the fire authority had not been under the impression that they had voted to approve the report at the meeting and had been very surprised to learn in the press that they had. Cllr Jones's fox had been shot and Calum was holding the smoking gun.

The last word goes to Cllr Alun Lenny, who has issued the following statement:

"It appears that the Plaid Cymru Chair, like councillors of all other parties on the Fire Authority, believed that the call control Centre report was to be noted – presumably for discussion and approval at a future date. This impression was confirmed by a Labour member of the Authority at this week’s Full Council meeting. It was gratifying to see councillors unanimously supporting my Notice of Motion opposing relocation, asking the Authority to reconsider and calling for full public consultation in the meantime. It shows the depth of cross-party concern in this matter, which reflects public outrage. 
"On Monday, the Plaid county councillors representing Carmarthen town had a stormy meeting with Assistant Chief Fire Officer Derek Masson – who’s led on this project. We expressed in no uncertain terms our opposition to this fundamental change in the fire service. It’s outrageous that it’s being implemented without any public consultation. As well as losing up to 35 well-paid jobs in our county (which contributes £9m. towards running the fire and Rescue service), there are deep concerns about public safety.
"This is one issue where a basic knowledge of Welsh is essential. In their Briefing Note, the Fire Service says it will: maintain Welsh-speaking staff to ensure that those who wish to speak to our staff in Welsh can do so. That is to totally misunderstand the situation! This isn’t a matter of language rights, it’s a matter of control staff being familiar with Welsh place names and their locations. As a member of the fire brigade staff said: If Mr Jones of Maes-y-meillion, Llanfallteg makes an emergency call to say his farmhouse is on fire, how many times will he have to spell that to a person in Bridgend?
"This situation has precedent. In 2011 the UK Government changed its mind about closing Milford Haven and Holyhead Coastguard stations, mainly on these very grounds – that local knowledge of Welsh place names was a material safety consideration.
"As I said in proposing the Motion, the current Command and Control centres in Wales have been praised throughout the UK as “notable practise”. In other words, they work well. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  My fear – expressed by fire-fighters themselves – is that breaking up the present system on cost grounds could cost lives. It’s not worth the risk."

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Drastic measures

Mark James has returned to work as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, and will no doubt receive a warm welcome from Meryl Gravell and others when he makes his grand entrance at today's council meeting.

The Carmarthen Journal marks the occasion on its front page with a picture of Mr James above a headline which reads "Shooting cow was last resort", although that turns out to be reference to an unfortunate incident on the A48 rather than anything to do with measures used by the council boss to deal with some of his more vocal critics.

Unfortunately the picture of the CJ's front page appears to be playing havoc with the post again, so you'll just have to buy the paper for yourselves.

A brief report on this month's council meeting will follow in due course.

Saturday 10 May 2014

The Commercial Property Section

The Llanelli Star reports that HDD (better known in these parts as Henry Davidson Developments) has sold the East Gate development in Llanelli to Ignis UK Property Fund for £14m, with further payments to follow when currently vacant units on the site are eventually let.

East Gate was developed by HDD in conjunction with Carmarthenshire County Council, and includes the Odeon Cinema, which is owned in turn by Terra Firma, a huge global equity group. It will be recalled that the council generously donated £20,000 to the money men so that the newly built cinema could be equipped with a 3D system.

East Gate is also home to the Red Room, the Scarlets' upmarket bar, which was opened thanks to £280,000 in "allowable expenses" kindly donated by Carmarthenshire County Council, and despite having more than enough of its own office space, the council decided back in 2011 to help HDD out by renting 21,000 square feet of office space in a deal which will cost us £5 million over 20 years.

Ignis is the asset management arm of what is now called the Phoenix Group, one of the largest UK insurance companies. Ignis manages a number of investment funds, and currently has around £66 billion in assets under management.

East Gate is the first venture by Ignis into the Welsh property market, and the Llanelli development sits a little incronguously alongside the fund's swankier holdings in places such as Richmond (Surrey) and Marlow (Buckinghamshire). It also owns Ocado's distribution unit in Hatfield. There's posh.

The Llanelli Star piece, which is presumably quoting a press release, says that the deal represents an initial yield of 7.41%. Ignis reckons that returns in the UK commercial property market will average around 11.5% next year, with strongest growth coming from office space at 13.8%.

East Gate clearly has some way to go before it reaches those dizzy heights, and we council tax payers can only hope that the rental agreement for the office space has clauses built in to protect us from any dramatic rent increases.

Friday 9 May 2014

Back to the future

Dic Mortimer, whose blog puts Cneifiwr's efforts to shame, was recently off down memory lane with a slightly risqué joke about the late Lady Isobel Barnett, a mainstay of the now defunct radio quiz show, Twenty Questions. 

This reference and the apparently relentless rise of UKIP had me thinking about what Britain used to be like before Ted Heath (this post will be littered with obscure names that most readers under the age of 50 will find puzzling) took us into what was then called the EEC, and Britain went into a decline that only Nigel Farage and his cult followers can save us from as they attempt to turn the clock back.

Farage is 50 and so unable to remember the halycon days of pre-European Britain, but a great many of his followers don't have that excuse as they look back nostalgically on an England where old maids cycled through the morning mist to Holy Communion, and real men supped warm beer.

England had control over its own borders then, but was busy welcoming immigrants from the old colonies with signs saying "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish".

According to Nigel, we no longer have control over our borders, which is why passengers arriving at British airports often have to wait hours to go through passport control, and HM Press and politicians get very indignant when a senior official decides to try speeding things up by subjecting plane loads of ordinary travellers to only minimal checks. Fears that this cordon sanitaire might be breached has BBC reporters hanging around airports to film hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians jetting into Britain, only to find that there are no hordes.

Britain opted out of the Schengen Agreement, the hated EU treaty which means that you can drive from France via Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany through Austria and down to the heel of Italy without having to show a passport or stop for customs. Oddly enough, there seems to be very little appetite for scrapping Schengen and putting the border posts back in Europe. But then they're foreign, aren't they?

Three years before Nigel was born, Britain finally scrapped a law which made suicide a criminal offence. If you were unlucky enough to fail in the attempt, the chances were that you would find yourself in court and handed a prison sentence.

The UK was one of the last western countries to decriminalize suicide. The rot was already setting in, but Nigel was born in a country where abortion and homosexual acts were illegal, where we still had capital punishment (just). Birching had more or less been phased out, but was fortunately still available to the authorities on the Isle of Man (not part of the EU).

"What's a backstreet abortion?" I remember asking my parents after reading a newspaper headline. The question is clear in my memory, even if the answer isn't.

We also had lots of other wonderful home-made British laws which the European Court of Human Rights (not part of the EU either) would not be happy with. Getting divorced could be very difficult, but if you had enough money you could arrange for someone to pop in to your bedroom and photograph you in flagrante as evidence of adultery. Although not with someone of the same sex, because that would have landed you in prison, stupid.

Nigel thinks we should withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights and scrap the Human Rights Act so that we can get back to making proper British laws.

And while he's at it, he would like to scrap some of those mamby-pamby rights that people have come to enjoy, such as paid maternity leave. Luckily Britain opted out of parts of the Working Time Directive, so he would be starting from a position where British workers have fewer rights than their continental cousins. Giving workers rights is bad for the economy, as we can see from the basket case that is Germany.

I began to take an interest in politics at an early age, and my first political memory was the Cuban missile crisis. The grown-ups must have been very worried about it because I can remember there being a lot of talk in the playground about how we were all going to die very soon.

Not long after that we got our first television set, and Harold Wilson won the 1964 general election. This was very annoying because the precious slots allocated to children's TV programmes were swept aside to make way for election coverage.

Britain was in the final stages of losing its empire, and there were lots of bad news stories from the colonies that were left. Rhodesia declared UDI, and future Ukippers cried "Good Old Smithy". Jeremy Thorpe, who became Liberal leader in 1967, caused outrage by suggesting that the RAF might bomb strategic transport links in Rhodesia, and there were all sorts of baddies in the British press, ranging from President Nasser in Egypt to Dom Mintoff in Malta. Sometimes there were mini colonial wars, such as Aden (now part of Yemen) where 'Mad Mitch' fought what some people (the broadsheet Daily Express, for example) called the Last Battle of the British Empire. The Brits lost, although back home it was portrayed as a glorious fighting retreat, a bit like Afghanistan today, and Mad Mitch became a Tory MP.

A vivid memory from around this time (October 1966) was the Aberfan disaster. In those days multi-media meant that there were radio programmes for schools. Mrs Newman must have been tuning into 'Music and Movement' (a sort of prehistoric version of aerobics with flashes of navy knickers) when she picked up on the news that there had been a disaster somewhere in the Valleys. 116 children and 28 adults died. The school was very much like the one I was in at the time, only bigger, and the children were just like me.

Not long after that Mrs Newman made a point of calling the entire class together to tell us that a new little girl called Miriam would be joining us. We were to be kind to Miriam and not make fun of her because she was black. Actually Miriam's mum was white, but she still counted as the first black person we had seen, except on the telly.

I think we were kind to Miriam, and I went on a bike ride with her and we shared a walnut whip in a disused sheep shed.

My tenth birthday was celebrated in Pwllheli in a heatwave. Pwllheli probably does not get many of those, and my birthday cake caught fire on the beach when a gust of wind blew the flames from the candles onto the fancy paper surrounding the sickly icing. I spent my 10 shillings birthday money on a Welsh dictionary.

A month later Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to put an end to the 'Prague Spring' and a young student, Jan Palach, burnt himself to death in protest against the invasion. Today Prague is a vibrant, beautiful city which is a popular destination for British tourists, right in the middle of the EU.  Thirty years before that the British Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) described Czechoslovakia as "a faraway country" of whose people we knew nothing. Nigel would have approved.

Despite all the bad news on the telly and the radio, life was sweet and mostly very happy. But there were children less fortunate, and one or two of my contemporaries had shrivelled limbs from polio.

Progress was being made with other nasty diseases, and my great grandmother was unlucky enough to be one of those to die in one of the last outbreaks of smallpox in south Wales (the last one was in 1962). She had lost her husband many years earlier in a mining accident and had been left to bring up four young children with no money. Towards the end of her life she developed what we would probably now call dementia and was put away in a "hospital", which was in reality a rebranded former workhouse.

She and other elderly patients succumbed to smallpox when victims of the disease were isolated with the expendable oldies.

That was slightly before my time, but only just, and I can remember all too well how another great grandmother spent her last year in a different former workhouse which had also been converted into a grim red brick nursing home. She had begged and pleaded not to be sent to the workhouse, which was what she knew it as, and never spoke to her daughter again.

That was just after I passed the Eleven Plus. I was apparently the first and last boy from my village to pass since the Second World War, and it meant that I went to a different school from all my old friends. It was a bit of a shock going from a school with 32 children to one with 1,200, and I remember someone asking me if I knew that so-and-so was an RC. I did not. In fact I didn't know what an RC was. Multicultural Britain was beginning to stir.

Out in the big wide world people tut-tutted at the race riots in America, and I seem to remember a lot of sympathy for black Americans and the Civil Rights Movement, but rather less sympathy when Civil Rights became the rallying cry for Catholics and nationalists in Northern Ireland.

A particular figure of hate in the British press at the time was Bernadette Devlin who became an MP at the age of 21. She slapped the Tory Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, in the face when he claimed that the Paratroopers had opened fire in self defence on Bloody Sunday.

Edward Heath unexpectedly beat Wilson in the 1970 general election, and I performed a sketch in an English class mimicking the Grocer promising to "cut prices at a stroke".

Decimal currency was introduced, and not long afterwards Heath massacred the French language in a speech heralding our membership of the EEC. I met him years later, but can't remember anything he said because I was distracted by his shirt which must have been several sizes too big. The cuffs extended right down to his fingers.

This was a strange period. There was a lot of talk about Britain having lost an empire and being in search of a role. Around the time that Dic Mortimer was frivolously tuning into Twenty Questions, a spotty Cneifiwr was listening to Any Questions. I can't remember if Lady Isobel Barnett was one of the regular panellists (she probably was), but stalwarts included Lord Alf Robens, Enoch Powell and Lord Bob Boothby.

Robens was a folksy former Labour politician who had become chairman of the National Coal Board. It was during his time in the top job that the Aberfan disaster happened. Rather than going straight to the village, Robens insisted on attending a ceremony at the University of Surrey where he was made chancellor. Although he later admitted that the NCB was to blame for the catastrophe, he refused to fund the full cost of removing the tips, and raided £150,000 from the Disaster Fund set up to help the people of Aberfan.

Boothby was another popular panellist. Although not widely known at the time, he had had a long affair with Lady Dorothy Macmillian, wife of the Tory Prime Minister, and had had a close association with Ronnie Kray, the London gangster, who supplied him with young men and arranged gay orgies for his enjoyment.

Enoch Powell's strange and slightly whiny voice completes our trio. After leaving the Conservative Party in the wake of his rivers of blood speech predicting carnage as a result of immigration, Powell went on to become an Ulster Unionist. He was virulently anti-Europe, and would without a doubt have joined UKIP if he were still around.

There were many other panellists like them, and week in, week out audiences would be told how wonderful Britain was. We had the best police, the best health service, the best system of justice and the best and bravest armed forces. We were damned lucky to be British in short.

Any Questions lives on as a quaint survivor of the great days of radio with a faint smell of wee and mothballs about it, as does its companion phone-in programme called Any Answers, which used to be fondly known as Any Bigots?

Perhaps it was teenage hormones, but Cneifiwr started to have nagging doubts as to whether all of this was true.

In politics there were signs that the old certainties were crumbling as well. Gwynfor Evans won Carmarthen for Plaid Cymru in 1966, and a year later Winnie Ewing became the SNP's first MP in Westminster. Across Wales English-only road signs were defaced. Northern Ireland went up in flames, there were the miners' strikes and the Three Day Week with power cuts, and all sorts of panic buying of exotic items such as sugar. Inflation soared.

Cneifiwr went on a school trip to France, and we stayed in a coal mining district near Lille. That must have been just before Britain went into the EEC because there were exchange controls, and you had to take your passport to the bank to change your £20 spending money into francs; the bank clerk would duly note at the back of the passport that you had bought foreign money to take out of the country, possibly putting the  Sterling Zone at risk of collapse.

There was a long series of notorious miscarriages of justice. Even at the time it seemed odd how every time a bomb went off or something bad happened, arrests would follow shortly afterwards and the guilty men would be locked up, only to emerge from prison years later when it was shown that they had been innocent.

To many people's regret, we had stopped hanging people by then, but at least the innocent lived to tell the tale.

The past is another country; they do things differently there.

Some things they did better, perhaps. I was never dragged around B&Q or Tesco's as a kid on a Sunday, even if they had existed, because most shops closed on Sunday.

Some things haven't changed. Boothby, Powell and Robens may be pushing up the daisies, but we have Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Boris.

The halycon days of backstreet abortions, exchange controls, wars, capital punishment, the birch and a forelock tugging, foreigner hating Britain in search of a role outside Europe is something UKIP may be keen on, but it won't get my vote.